Daily Archives: March 17, 2007

Exploring Russian Westophobia

The Gates of Vienna blog offers the following analysis from a Russian of Russia’s fundamentally anti-Western nature:

Moscow soldiersI am originally from Russia and I have been always asking such questions of myself: what is the reason for the alienation of Russia from the West? This alienation is seen clearly on both sides. For example, the traditional criticism of the Russian Empire as a despotic regime is based on left-wing liberal opinions, originating from the French revolution, which Russia opposed.

On the other hand, a strong anti-Western sentiment in Russia started after the Russian socialist revolution in 1917. Thus, the first explanation is that socialists always hate each other. At the same time they are ready to embrace Muslims, if they think they can gain from it. Already Lenin, in one of his latest papers, suggested an alliance with Muslims against Europe, after he was disappointed with Europe’s failure to support revolution.

However, there is a much older anti-Western element in Russia, and it comes from eastern Christianity. Orthodox Christianity has always considered itself as the only true Christianity, never ever admitted its own mistakes, and blamed it all on the West (sounds familiar, eh?). It was always associated with the Empire rather than with Biblical tradition. For example, the Russian church does not recommend reading the Bible, because too much in it is about the Jews. Russians rather call themselves “orthodoxes” than Christians, which shows that they actually consider themselves to be a kind of special religion. Thus they miss another common issue with the West.

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Russia Poisons Democracy

Writing in the National Post and appearing on Frontpagemag.com, David Frum reveals the horrors of democracy’s doom in Russia:

“A message has been communicated to anyone who wants to speak out against the Kremlin: ‘If you do, no matter who you are, where you are, we will find you and we will silence you in the most horrible way possible.'”

Those words come from an interview broadcast on NBC’s Dateline on Feb. 26. They were spoken by Paul Joyal, a Washington consultant who studies the former Soviet Union. Joyal was talking about the murder of his friend Alexander Litvinenko, the KGB defector who died painfully in London on Nov. 23 from radiation poisoning.

Four nights after his Dateline interview, Joyal met another prominent KGB defector, Oleg Kalugin, for dinner at a restaurant in downtown Washington. Joyal returned to his home in suburban Maryland about 7:30 pm, stepped out of his car–and was shot in the groin. Neither his wallet nor his briefcase were taken. His shooter has not been found.

Happily, the shooting was not fatal. Ivan Safronov, a military affairs writer for the Russian daily Kommersant, was less fortunate. Safronov had been working on a big story about a secret Russian deal to ship highly advanced Iskander missiles to Syria. The day after the Joyal shooting, Safronov fell out of a fifth story window in Moscow. Safronov is the 89th journalist to have died violently in Russia over the past 10 years.

We do not know how many of those deaths were ordered by the Russian government. (And indeed Joyal’s shooting may well have been an ordinary crime.)

But we do know that over the past half dozen years, Vladimir Putin’s government has extinguished all of Russia’s independent broadcast media and severely curbed most print media.

We do know that Putin has ended elections for local government and centralized all power in the Kremlin.

We do know that he has used administrative powers to seize some of Russia’s largest corporations and transfer ownership to his supporters–and to confiscate gas fields leased to foreign investors.

And now we have a clearer idea of how Putin has been able to get away with these dangerous moves toward dictatorship: The Russian people support him.

Last week, the EU-Russia Centre released the results of a major new survey of Russian public opinion.

Only 16 percent of those surveyed identified the “Western model” of democracy as the ideal. More than twice as many, 35 percent, said they “prefer the Soviet system before the 1990s.”

Only 10 percent of Russians regarded their country as belonging to the West. 71 percent said that Russia was not part of Europe. Almost half of Russians, 45 percent, regard Europe as a threat.

The pollsters read a series of words to respondents. They asked: Did those words have positive or negative associations. Only 33 percent of Russians had positive associations with the word “freedom.” Even the word “democracy” had surprisingly strong negative associations: Up to one quarter of less affluent and less educated Russians associated “democracy” with concepts like (to use the pollsters’ words): “chaos, demagoguery and pointless chattering.”

The EU-Russia Centre notes that Russians responded much more positively to democracy and freedom in the mid-1990s than they do today. But those first post-Soviet years also suffered a collapse of living standards and political chaos–unleashing Soviet nostalgia in many Russians. Putin’s authoritarian rule, by contrast, has coincided with a time of rising prices for Russian oil and gas, and thus with improving living standards.

But this explanation goes only so far. Even in the mid-1990s, only 25 percent of Russians regarded Western democracy as the ideal system for Russia. Russians have been debilitated by 70-plus years of communism into feelings of personal helplessness that leads them to crave a strong boss. Virtually every Russian surveyed, 94 percent, said they felt they had zero influence on events in their country; 82 percent felt they bore no responsibility.

It’s as if they are saying: let Putin kill his enemies–there’s nothing we can do, and so it’s not our fault. As an institution, Russian democracy is dying. Inside the minds of the Russians, it is already dead.

We have no shortage of things to worry about in our troubled world: Islamic extremism, Chinese aggression, European weakness, American isolation. Now add one more. A potentially great power, endowed with vast energy wealth and inheriting a vast nuclear arsenal, is deliberately and with the approval of the majority of its people turning its back on democracy and freedom. Instead of joining the West, Russia is finding its way to dangerous alliances with Iran, Syria, China, and who knows what other sinister forces. This grouping of anti-democratic states is extending its reach around the world–even perhaps to the suburbs of Washington D.C.

Annals of the Media Crackdown in Russia

Reuters reports on yet another shocking development in Vladimir Putin’s ongoing war on Russia’s media:

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has decreed the creation of a new super-agency to regulate media and the internet, sparking fears among Russian journalists of a bid to extend tight publishing controls to the relatively free web. Putin signed a decree this week merging two existing agencies into one entity that will license broadcasters, newspapers and websites and oversee their editorial content.

The move, which comes before national elections next year, unites Rosokhrankultura, the organisation supervising media and culture, with Rossvyaznadzor, the federal body controlling telecommunications and information technology. Officials said this would improve efficiency by putting a single entity in charge of media content and technology but some of Russia’s top journalists expressed concern. Under Putin’s rule, independent publishers have been mostly taken over by Kremlin-friendly businessmen. Domestic media are under heavy pressure not to criticise the government, making journalists suspicious of any new official initiative.

Raf Shakirov, who was dismissed as editor of the Izvestiya daily after critical coverage of the 2004 Beslan school siege, said Putin’s decree could extend Soviet-style controls to Russia’s online media, which have been relatively free to date.

Media control

“This is an attempt to put everything under control, not only electronic media, but also personal data about people such as bloggers,” he said.

Tired of stifling official control over mainstream television and newspapers, Russians have increasingly turned to the internet to find independent sources of information. Russians are the second largest group represented on the big US-based blog http://www.livejournal.com. Their blogs often feature political debates and advertise protests by opposition leaders. But authorities have already fired a warning shot across the bows of one leading news website, http://www.gazeta.ru, which got an official warning last year for “extremism” after writing about cartoons satirising the Prophet Mohammad.

Super agency might put the squeeze on media

Roman Bodanin, gazeta.ru’s political editor, said the new super-regulator could make it easier for the government to track and pressurise independent media because the same agency would control the granting of licences and the supervision of content. Andrei Vasilyev, editor of Russian daily Kommersant, saw the move as part of a Kremlin drive to consolidate power before parliamentary and presidential elections in the next 12 months.

“It is very dangerous (for the Kremlin) to scatter the ownership of broadcasting frequencies and licences between different institutions,” he said, saying he was speaking in a personal capacity. “There might be a loophole for some alternative information channel,” he said.

Government officials said Russia’s media would benefit from the new body, due to start work within three months. “The question of regulation will now be easier,” said Yevgeny Strelchik, a spokesman for Rosokhrankultura. He dismissed worries about more control over the media as “journalists’ fantasies”. No official announcement on who will head the media super-regulator has yet been made.

Annals of Screwball Yuri Mamchur: The lies from Russia Blog just keep right on coming

In a pathbreaking original post on March 5th, La Russophobe published the results of her research on the Russia blogosphere, ranking the top Russia blogs based on Technorati link influence and Alexa traffic data. Siberian Light wrote a post about La Russophobe‘s research on the same day LR posted it. Senior Russian blogger Andy Young wrote that LR’s work made for “interesting reading, and provided a pretty good overview of who is who in the English speaking Russia blogosphere.” No other Russian blogger had ever attempted to provide readers with this basic information.

As readers will know, LR raised a serious questions about the significance of certain blogs’ Alexa traffic levels. The data showed that only four Russia blogs in the world had more traffic than La Russophobe: Very Russian Tochka, Siberian Light, Russia Blog (a/k/a “The Real Russia Project”) and Russian Spy. Only one of them, SL, has a public counter. LR pointed out that the traffic data for the first two blogs had been skewed by freakish incidents in which non-original material had been picked up by mammoth search engines, resulting a gigantic flow of traffic to the blogs for a few days which then disappeared. (To their credit, both bloggers have publicly acknowledged this fact in posts, which is how LR knows). LR also pointed out that Russian Spy is more like a newspaper than a blog (it’s Alexa ranking has now fallen below that of LR), and that Russia Blog is unique among all blogs in the survey in that it is a funded operation published by a person, Yuri Mamchur, who is paid to do it. LR speculated that Russia Blog spends money on commercial traffic generation techniques to artificially boost its traffic data (for example, you can pay various firms to supply you with “key words” that can be inserted into your texts to generate hits, and you can pay “public relations” firms to talk up your site in key fora), and therefore comparing their traffic to that of a non-funded blog is pretty much meaningless. She also noted that although Russia Blog has more traffic than LR, it doesn’t have significantly more Technorati linking blogs and has five times fewer links from those blogs than La Russophobe, indicating that the visits to Russia Blog are not really serious. What’s more, she noted, Russia Blog doesn’t have the guts to post a public counter, and it doesn’t reveal any details about the nature of its traffic (for instance, how long an average visitor spends at the blog).

In a comment on Siberian Light, Russia Blog’s Yuri Mamchur made the following statements about his blog’s performance and funding in response to LR’s analysis:

1) I have been very busy with fundraising in the last two months for my program which is called “The Real Russia Project” and does much more than a blog. Our next big conference will be held in Washington DC at the University Club on April 18 at 4:30 pm. The event name is “Russia: Friend, Foe, or What?”

2) The blog is still called Russia Blog. I just like the new banner and I will take your tip and add something about the actual blog name.

3) Discovery institute is a non-profit, and it takes the overhead cut for things like accounting, office space, IT support, etc. No one gives out money to anyone (at least in my world). Fundraising is tough, but I like what I’m doing.

4) Also the real stats of the blog for yesterday (March 7, 2007) are: 2,103 unique visitors to the main page, and other approximately 2,200 unique visitors to certain articles and archives. Our average is around 3,000-5,000 a day. Last month Russia Blog received 51,000 unique visitors. Our articles regularly appear in Google News. Just wait for a major piece by us and Google it up and hit the “news”.

As you can see, Yuri makes no attempt to deny that his blog spends money to generate traffic, and brags about spending money on various other projects as well. He indicates he plans to raise and spend more money in the future.

As for Yuri’s claim about “regularly appearing” on Google news, perhaps poor Yuri doesn’t understand what Google News is. According to Wikipedia: “the service is fully automated with no human editors.” In other words, no living person has said that the Russia Blog items picked up by the GN aggregator are worth spit. It just means his blog has been picked at random by a computer. According to Wiki, such problems can arise as the following: ” In March 2005 attention was called to Google’s inclusion of the white supremacist National Vanguard magazine, and the resulting controversy forced Google to remove that site from the service.” In other words, the computer doens’t have the slightest idea what it’s doing, and acts at random. Nazis can get listed on Google News, and undoubtedly if you’re willing to pay a consultant to take the effort there are techniques any blog could use to direct Google’s spiders to its content. It’s not surprising that Yuri wouldn’t read Wikipedia, since it exposes Discovery Institutes significant ethical lapses as it wages its war to bring the teaching of intelligent design to the world’s schoolchildren.

In other words, the way to judge whether being picked up by Google News means anything is to check and see whether anybody actually reads the item and refers to Russia Blog as the source. If you look at that question, you see that Yuri’s statement is a bold misrepresentation of the facts. If you search Google News for “Russia Blog” you will find 12 entries, not one of which has been picked up by another news entity; one of the entries is about the screening of a Russian film at Russia Blog headquarters and another is some photographs of somebody watching the Superbowl in Moscow. If that’s “news” then LR will eat her hat. Others, like this one, are actually reprints of stories in newspapers by a blog that is doing fundraising. In case “lawyer” Yuri Mamchur hasn’t heard, that’s copyright infringement unless you have permission to do it. Do you, Yuri dear? None of the items constitutes original reporting of “news” by the staff of Russia Blog. In short, there’s no evidence at all that anyone cares in the least about these “news stories” from Russia Blog and no reason whatsoever for Google to be treating them as “news” (except for sleight of hand by Russia Blog).

If you search Google News instead for “Real Russia Project” you get only one entry: It was entitledNew Russian IPOs: The Russian AIM Way” and appeared on March 6th. It’s an article by a Russian stock broker trying to tout the wonders of investing in the Russian market. Russia Blog does not declare whether the author has any financial ties to RRP/Russia Blog or not (as Yuri states, he’s actively engaged in fundraising — is this writer a contributor?), and the post isn’t original material published by Russia Blog, it’s just a republication from the author’s own blog. So it’s really the author’s blog that should have been listed on Google News, not RRP (in other words, RRP has co-opted — in effect, stolen — the original blog’s publicity for itself).

Now let’s look at the ripple effect that this publication had in the world of news. There wasn’t any. Google news shows that no other “news” site (not even the Nazis) picked up the story. Even if you put “The Russian AIM Way” into Google’s main search engine to look for the most obscure text references to the story, you will see that there are only 79 hits on the story and only 13 unique links. Two of the 13 links are to RRP’s own site and two more are to the original blog which published the story, from which RRP copied it. So outside of the little world of Russia Blog, their “big story” has been mentioned on the whole world wide web a total of nine times. Not one of the links is significant or even contains a substantive discussion of RRP’s story, which of course could easily be viewed not as a news story but as an editorial arguing in favor of a positive view of the Russian stock market. If you search the link for Russia Blog’s post, http://www.russiablog.org/2007/03/new_russian_ipos_the _russian _a.php, you don’t get a single result.

The only evidence on Google News of anyone ever paying the slightest attention to Russia Blog entries is found if you search their archives. If you search the archives for “Russia Blog” you find that two posts, namely “Putin to Step Down, No Third Term” in August 2006 and “Murder Over Foreign-Made Car” in September 2006 were picked up once each by other news sites (PR Newswire and Reuters News Alert). If you search the archives for “Real Russia Project” you find that one other post, “Uninformed Stereotypes” in September, was picked up twice, once allegedly by Forbes newswire (the link is dead now) and once by Keepmedia newswire. So Google News says that Russia Blog posts have been noticed by other “news” sites only four times in the last eight months, and not once since September 2006. That’s hardly “regular” genuine activity on Google News, to say the least.

So, once again, we find that Yuri Mamchur and RRP/Russia Blog appear to be guilty of wildly irresponsible hyperbole as they seek to publicize their blog. Even if Russia Blog posts were “regularly” appearing on Google News, that wouldn’t mean a thing unless people were actually reading them, and they clearly aren’t.