Daily Archives: March 22, 2007

The Horror of Neo-Soviet Education: MGU Students Beg for International Assistance to Defend themselves from the Putinoids

Moscow State University is Russia’s Harvard. A group of students has formed a protest group called OD Group (their logo is displayed at the left) seeking to stop the efforts of the Kremlin to seize ideological control of their institution, and they are pleading for foreign assistance. Here is their request:

We, a group of students of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University, have asked the department’s administration to improve the quality of teaching, stop force-feeding us with ultranationalist propaganda, and ensure acceptable conditions of life and study. In response to our demands, the administration has stepped up repressive measures: friends who were distributing leaflets have been arrested by the police; individual students have been threatened; and the dean’s office and a servile student’s committee have written a letter to the rector (president) of the university asking to clamp down on any unapproved student protest actions, campaigns, or meetings on campus. All this is part of an attempt to muzzle us and create a wall of silence to conceal the dramatic state of affairs at the department.

In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean. The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system.

Studying conditions at the department are unbearable. There are not enough lecture halls, and there is no ventilation. The building is stuffed with video surveillance cameras which the administration uses to track suspect students. Factory-style turnstiles have been installed at the entrance, and the security guards act rudely toward students. We have no library of our own.

We demand that the curricula be changed, competent teachers be invited, students be informed about foreign exchange programs, the rude security guards be dismissed, the rigid gating system be abolished, and a minimum of basic amenities be provided.

We are seeking a public meeting with the dean and rector. Our main objective is to improve the level of teaching and obtain acceptable working conditions for students, but also for the department’s faculty, some of whom have expressed their support for us.

Details about the situation at the department and our demands, as well as press reports and letters of support (mostly in Russian), may be found at http://www.od-group.org.

How can you help?

If you support our demands, please send us an e-mail (info@od-group.org) stating your name, institutional affiliation and position, or leave your details at our web site, http://www.od-group.org. Please write to the dean and the rector to express your concern, in any language, with a copy to our address.

Moscow State University Press Secretary
phone +7-495-939-36-67
fax: +7-495-939-22-64
e-Mail: press@rector.msu.ru;

Viktor Antonovich Sadovnichy, Rector
Moscow State University: phone +7-495-939-10-00
fax: +7-495-939-01-26
e-Mail: info@rector.msu.ru;

Vladimir Ivanovich Dobrenkov, Dean
Moscow State University Sociology Department
phone/fax: +7-495-939-46-98
E-Mail: vid@socio.msu.ru or theory@socio.msu.ru;

Administration of the Sociology Department
e-mail: soc@socio.msu.ru
fax: +7-495-939-46-98.

We also ask you to spread this letter widely among your friends and colleagues and ask them to support us. Any advice on how best to achieve our objectives would also be greatly appreciated.

Here is a list of some of the students’ concerns:

  • In recent years, fifteen recognized scholars have been forced out of the university, including Professor Vladimir Nikolayev, one of the few Russian experts on the Chicago School and translator of Robert Park, Everett Hughes, Alfred Schütz, Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman; Professor Elena Kukushkina, a well-known expert on pre-revolutionary Russian sociology; Professors Y.N. Tolstova and O.V. Ivanov, experts in the mathematical modeling of social processes; Professor V.V. Shtcherbina, a leading theorist of organization sociology and consultant to a number of large Russian companies; Professor Andrew Degtyarev, a well-known Russian expert in political sociology and member of the International Sociological Association’s research committees on Political Sociology and Urban and Regional Development; and Professor Helen Shestopal, a well-known social and political psychologist and vice-president of both the International and Russian Political Science Associations.
  • Experienced and well-known teachers have been replaced with young careerists promoted by the dean. They freely acknowledge their own incompetence: “I am very surprised I have to teach this course. I don’t have much of a clue about it. But we’ll find something to talk about…”
  • Irrespectively of the subject, the lectures are full of never-changing clichés. To quote a student: “Every lecture starts from scratch: we start with a definition of what sociology is about and stop at the third page of the textbook. At every lecture, we ask ourselves: ‘Is this really what the social sciences are all about???’” In some cases, faculty members refuse to teach a class because they find it unacceptable simply to read out chapters from a textbook as they are told to.
  • Staff teachers are not given the opportunity to conduct research and discuss it with their students. The administration asks them to teach full-time and literally takes away any outside research grants they are awarded. As one teacher witnesses: “Obtaining a research grant through the department means that you have to do unpaid extra work. The grant money is transferred to the department and ends up in other people’s pockets.” Teachers must keep quiet about this if they want to keep their posts.
  • The department does not invite outside sociologists to give classes – neither academic scholars nor market or survey researchers. Instead, most lectures are given by staff teachers. To quote a student: “Lectures on business administration are given by someone who has never worked as a manager even at the lowest level, and has no idea how private companies function. He is a religious fanatic and is convinced that ‘In Russia, a woman can never become a full-fledged manager.’” The administration does all it can to keep outside teachers away by offering them a fee of 260 rubles a month (10 US dollars/7.5 euros/5 GBP).
  • The administration does not inform students about visits by international scholars. Students at the Sociology Department were the only ones at the university who did not learn about a visit by the social historian Michelle Perrot. A visit by well-known sociologist Piotr Sztompka was kept secret: the department’s administration and a few ‘select’ faculty members met with him on a Sunday behind closed doors.
  • Instead of improving the quality of teaching, the administration tightens up discipline. Attendance control used to be at teachers’ discretion; now the administration forces them to hand monthly attendance reports personally to the vice dean, Sergei Trofimov. In addition to the security guards, the administration has installed turnstiles, as if the department building was a high-security military installation. The department building is literally stuffed with surveillance cameras. The security guards and the vice president (in person) “hunt” for latecomers – both students and teachers. A student reports that “even professors who are five minutes late are made to provide a written explanation, not to mention students.”
  • The administration exacerbates this atmosphere of total control by constantly bullying and threatening students and teachers. Students bold enough to criticize the administration are often accused of lying, bad manners, over-assertiveness and even sexual inferiority. A student reports: “Sergei Trofimov constantly humiliates students. He is unable to solve any problem without bossing them around. He is incapable even of communicating with them: he either shouts or threatens them with expulsion, usually without even understanding the issue at hand.” In one known case, a female student who protested against the turnstiles was forcibly dragged through them by the security guards.
  • The dean’s office has distributed a brochure entitled “Why is the Russian Land being ‘cleansed’?,” whose authors blame Freemasons for “starting the world wars and initiating the creation of the atomic bomb” and claim that “the Zionist lobby … dictates US and British policy, is in charge of the global financial system (including the issuing of dollars), and practically controls all major mass media and telecommunications,” calls Russia “the Righteous Country” and the USA “the Beast Country,” and quote the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as a reliable source.

Do you dare to imagine, dear reader, what Russians would say if they found out an American professor was referring to Russia as “the Beast Country”? LR, for her part, does not dare.

Russia’s Poor Get Pulverized, Neo-Soviet Propaganda Continues Apace

Writing in the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, reporting from the central Russian city of Oryol, brilliantly (and horrifyingly) chronicles the desperate straights of Russia’s impoverished masses that he sees all around him.

It’s worth nothing a certain obscure Russia blogger (who shall be nameless because he’s just that contemptible and dishonest) has written that Harding’s implication that pensions have fallen under Putin is not correct. According to the blogger’s data, Kremlin-supplied information shows that pensions have remained constant or risen slightly after factoring the overall inflation rate. What the blogger, in a classic act of Russophile propaganda, doesn’t care to mention, is that it’s not the overall inflation rate that is relevant to Russians who live on $100 per month or less. For people in that position, only the inflation rate on the tiny basket of basic goods and services they can actually afford matters, and La Russophobe has previously documented that this “basic” inflation rate is much, much higher than the general rate. If the inflation rate that matters is were factored in, then you would see a significant drop in pension value throughout the Putin years even though the nominal amount has risen, exactly as Mr. Harding describes. The blogger, a fundamentally dishonest cretin, also doesn’t care to mention what every thinking person on the planet knows full well: Kremlin data simply isn’t reliable.

What’s more, of course, anyone who tries to argue that it is somehow wrong to claim that people asked to live on an income of $3 per day or less are living in horrible poverty, made even worse by the presence of a growing class of billionaires, just because their incomes are staying the same rather than falling, is engaging in propaganda that borders on criminality. Today’s Russia is no different than the Russia of 100 years ago, with a tiny elite class of super-rich presiding over a vast ocean of desperately poor people on the verge or extinction. Russia has learned nothing from the period of Tsarist oppression, and from the presence of proud KGB spy as president it’s clear Russia has learned nothing from the era of Soviet oppression either. Now, it has the worst of both worlds. Anyone who tries to distract attention from that fact is an enemy far more dangerous to Russia’s survival than any foreign invader.

Standing in his fetid kitchen, Sasha Ivanovich shows off a bucket of muddy potatoes. Dug from his snow-encrusted garden, they are his lunch. In fact they are his supper too as, he points out, he has nothing else to eat.

“Everything has got more expensive. Bread has gone up. Cigarettes have gone up. My sister pays my gas bill. I can’t afford vodka. Can you give me 100 roubles [£1.97]?” he asks, hopefully.

Since Vladimir Putin took power seven years ago, Russia has enjoyed growing prosperity. The days when the country was forced to borrow billions from the IMF, devalue the rouble, and beg for international help are a fading Yeltsin-era memory.

Instead, Russia has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Last month President Putin boasted that the country had paid off its $22bn (£13bn) foreign debt. Rising oil and gas prices have transformed its economic fortunes and made it a resurgent global force.

The Kremlin is now sitting on a vast mountain of cash, coyly known as the stabilisation fund. Last week it topped $103.6bn. (Others suggest Russia’s total surplus is more like $300bn.) And the American magazine Forbes recently revealed that Russia has 53 billionaires, 20 more than last year.

Unfortunately none of this has trickled down to Sasha, 56, who lives alone in a wooden cottage, and whose poor sight renders him unfit for work. Like many at the bottom of Russia’s pile, Sasha survives not through the generosity of the state but thanks to his kindly neighbours.

His home, in the village of Lavrov, is a 45-minute drive from the town of Oryol in south-west Russia, past forests of silver birch. The young people have all left and most of the older men appear to have died – hardly surprising in a country where male life expectancy is 58. Like much of rural Russia, Lavrov appears to be on its last legs, along with many of its remaining citizens.

“It was much better during Soviet times,” Tonya Fominyh, 79, says. “Pensions were small but equal. We lived well. Now our pensions are nothing.”

Mrs Fominyh receives 1,540 roubles a month from the state. She spent three decades working for the Soviet police force but now survives on handouts from her son.

So far few of Russia’s petro-billions have found their way to society’s poorest groups: pensioners, the unemployed and government employees, including teachers and hospital workers.

This month Russia’s orthodox church warned that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing wider, with some 20% of Russians below the poverty line. There is still no real middle-class and there is a significant gap between urban and rural life, the church said, warning: “Russia possesses between 30% and 40% of the earth’s resources. Revenues from exports of natural resources built the stabilisation fund. But only a very small part of society is getting richer. It is doing so at a pace that amazes even some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand, the majority of the population lives in destitution.”

It is not only pensioners in villages who are hard up. Sitting in her tiny flat in urban Oryol, Tatiana Tsherbakova gazes at a giant photo of a sun-kissed beach pasted to her living room wall. It is the Canaries, one of many places Mrs Tsherbakova, 68, would like to visit. “I don’t have the money to travel,” she explains. “It’s my great passion. I’ve always wanted to see Vladivostok. But the train ticket is too expensive.”

This is one of the strange ironies of post-Soviet Russia. Thirty years ago Mrs Tsherbakova was not allowed to travel to the west, but she took advantage of cheap internal fares to roam across the Soviet Union, holidaying in Moldova, swimming in the Black Sea and hiking in the Kazakh mountains. Now she is free to travel anywhere, but on her state pension of 5,600 roubles a month she cannot afford to.

Kremlin economists say they face a dilemma. It is impossible to raise pensions significantly, they argue, without increasing inflation, currently running at 9%. They also point out that Russia’s 38 million pensioners claim their pensions much earlier than western Europeans – at 55 for women and 60 for men.

“I don’t believe this [argument about inflation] to be true,” said Natalia Rimashevskaya, a poverty expert at Moscow’s Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population. “At the moment 30% of all salaries are below the minimum needed to live. Pensions are very low. The average is 2,500 roubles. This leaves pensioners on the edge. If prices go up, they fall into poverty.”

At his annual press conference last month Mr Putin said that reducing social inequality would be one of his key tasks before he leaves office next year.

Average salaries have gone up significantly under Mr Putin. But the statistics conceal the fact that for millions, wages have hardly changed at all, Ms Rimashevskaya said. One of the biggest problems, she added, was the tax system, which saw oligarchs and road sweepers paying an identical tax rate of 13%.

In numbers

Estimated value of Russia’s so-called stabilisation fund $103bn

The number of billionaires in Russia 53

Amount of foreign debt paid off $22bn

The average monthly pension £50

Proportion of salaries considered to be below the minimum needed to live 30%

Russia’s Poor Get Pulverized, Neo-Soviet Propaganda Continues Apace

Writing in the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, reporting from the central Russian city of Oryol, brilliantly (and horrifyingly) chronicles the desperate straights of Russia’s impoverished masses that he sees all around him.

It’s worth nothing a certain obscure Russia blogger (who shall be nameless because he’s just that contemptible and dishonest) has written that Harding’s implication that pensions have fallen under Putin is not correct. According to the blogger’s data, Kremlin-supplied information shows that pensions have remained constant or risen slightly after factoring the overall inflation rate. What the blogger, in a classic act of Russophile propaganda, doesn’t care to mention, is that it’s not the overall inflation rate that is relevant to Russians who live on $100 per month or less. For people in that position, only the inflation rate on the tiny basket of basic goods and services they can actually afford matters, and La Russophobe has previously documented that this “basic” inflation rate is much, much higher than the general rate. If the inflation rate that matters is were factored in, then you would see a significant drop in pension value throughout the Putin years even though the nominal amount has risen, exactly as Mr. Harding describes. The blogger, a fundamentally dishonest cretin, also doesn’t care to mention what every thinking person on the planet knows full well: Kremlin data simply isn’t reliable.

What’s more, of course, anyone who tries to argue that it is somehow wrong to claim that people asked to live on an income of $3 per day or less are living in horrible poverty, made even worse by the presence of a growing class of billionaires, just because their incomes are staying the same rather than falling, is engaging in propaganda that borders on criminality. Today’s Russia is no different than the Russia of 100 years ago, with a tiny elite class of super-rich presiding over a vast ocean of desperately poor people on the verge or extinction. Russia has learned nothing from the period of Tsarist oppression, and from the presence of proud KGB spy as president it’s clear Russia has learned nothing from the era of Soviet oppression either. Now, it has the worst of both worlds. Anyone who tries to distract attention from that fact is an enemy far more dangerous to Russia’s survival than any foreign invader.

Standing in his fetid kitchen, Sasha Ivanovich shows off a bucket of muddy potatoes. Dug from his snow-encrusted garden, they are his lunch. In fact they are his supper too as, he points out, he has nothing else to eat.

“Everything has got more expensive. Bread has gone up. Cigarettes have gone up. My sister pays my gas bill. I can’t afford vodka. Can you give me 100 roubles [£1.97]?” he asks, hopefully.

Since Vladimir Putin took power seven years ago, Russia has enjoyed growing prosperity. The days when the country was forced to borrow billions from the IMF, devalue the rouble, and beg for international help are a fading Yeltsin-era memory.

Instead, Russia has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Last month President Putin boasted that the country had paid off its $22bn (£13bn) foreign debt. Rising oil and gas prices have transformed its economic fortunes and made it a resurgent global force.

The Kremlin is now sitting on a vast mountain of cash, coyly known as the stabilisation fund. Last week it topped $103.6bn. (Others suggest Russia’s total surplus is more like $300bn.) And the American magazine Forbes recently revealed that Russia has 53 billionaires, 20 more than last year.

Unfortunately none of this has trickled down to Sasha, 56, who lives alone in a wooden cottage, and whose poor sight renders him unfit for work. Like many at the bottom of Russia’s pile, Sasha survives not through the generosity of the state but thanks to his kindly neighbours.

His home, in the village of Lavrov, is a 45-minute drive from the town of Oryol in south-west Russia, past forests of silver birch. The young people have all left and most of the older men appear to have died – hardly surprising in a country where male life expectancy is 58. Like much of rural Russia, Lavrov appears to be on its last legs, along with many of its remaining citizens.

“It was much better during Soviet times,” Tonya Fominyh, 79, says. “Pensions were small but equal. We lived well. Now our pensions are nothing.”

Mrs Fominyh receives 1,540 roubles a month from the state. She spent three decades working for the Soviet police force but now survives on handouts from her son.

So far few of Russia’s petro-billions have found their way to society’s poorest groups: pensioners, the unemployed and government employees, including teachers and hospital workers.

This month Russia’s orthodox church warned that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing wider, with some 20% of Russians below the poverty line. There is still no real middle-class and there is a significant gap between urban and rural life, the church said, warning: “Russia possesses between 30% and 40% of the earth’s resources. Revenues from exports of natural resources built the stabilisation fund. But only a very small part of society is getting richer. It is doing so at a pace that amazes even some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand, the majority of the population lives in destitution.”

It is not only pensioners in villages who are hard up. Sitting in her tiny flat in urban Oryol, Tatiana Tsherbakova gazes at a giant photo of a sun-kissed beach pasted to her living room wall. It is the Canaries, one of many places Mrs Tsherbakova, 68, would like to visit. “I don’t have the money to travel,” she explains. “It’s my great passion. I’ve always wanted to see Vladivostok. But the train ticket is too expensive.”

This is one of the strange ironies of post-Soviet Russia. Thirty years ago Mrs Tsherbakova was not allowed to travel to the west, but she took advantage of cheap internal fares to roam across the Soviet Union, holidaying in Moldova, swimming in the Black Sea and hiking in the Kazakh mountains. Now she is free to travel anywhere, but on her state pension of 5,600 roubles a month she cannot afford to.

Kremlin economists say they face a dilemma. It is impossible to raise pensions significantly, they argue, without increasing inflation, currently running at 9%. They also point out that Russia’s 38 million pensioners claim their pensions much earlier than western Europeans – at 55 for women and 60 for men.

“I don’t believe this [argument about inflation] to be true,” said Natalia Rimashevskaya, a poverty expert at Moscow’s Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population. “At the moment 30% of all salaries are below the minimum needed to live. Pensions are very low. The average is 2,500 roubles. This leaves pensioners on the edge. If prices go up, they fall into poverty.”

At his annual press conference last month Mr Putin said that reducing social inequality would be one of his key tasks before he leaves office next year.

Average salaries have gone up significantly under Mr Putin. But the statistics conceal the fact that for millions, wages have hardly changed at all, Ms Rimashevskaya said. One of the biggest problems, she added, was the tax system, which saw oligarchs and road sweepers paying an identical tax rate of 13%.

In numbers

Estimated value of Russia’s so-called stabilisation fund $103bn

The number of billionaires in Russia 53

Amount of foreign debt paid off $22bn

The average monthly pension £50

Proportion of salaries considered to be below the minimum needed to live 30%

Russia’s Poor Get Pulverized, Neo-Soviet Propaganda Continues Apace

Writing in the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, reporting from the central Russian city of Oryol, brilliantly (and horrifyingly) chronicles the desperate straights of Russia’s impoverished masses that he sees all around him.

It’s worth nothing a certain obscure Russia blogger (who shall be nameless because he’s just that contemptible and dishonest) has written that Harding’s implication that pensions have fallen under Putin is not correct. According to the blogger’s data, Kremlin-supplied information shows that pensions have remained constant or risen slightly after factoring the overall inflation rate. What the blogger, in a classic act of Russophile propaganda, doesn’t care to mention, is that it’s not the overall inflation rate that is relevant to Russians who live on $100 per month or less. For people in that position, only the inflation rate on the tiny basket of basic goods and services they can actually afford matters, and La Russophobe has previously documented that this “basic” inflation rate is much, much higher than the general rate. If the inflation rate that matters is were factored in, then you would see a significant drop in pension value throughout the Putin years even though the nominal amount has risen, exactly as Mr. Harding describes. The blogger, a fundamentally dishonest cretin, also doesn’t care to mention what every thinking person on the planet knows full well: Kremlin data simply isn’t reliable.

What’s more, of course, anyone who tries to argue that it is somehow wrong to claim that people asked to live on an income of $3 per day or less are living in horrible poverty, made even worse by the presence of a growing class of billionaires, just because their incomes are staying the same rather than falling, is engaging in propaganda that borders on criminality. Today’s Russia is no different than the Russia of 100 years ago, with a tiny elite class of super-rich presiding over a vast ocean of desperately poor people on the verge or extinction. Russia has learned nothing from the period of Tsarist oppression, and from the presence of proud KGB spy as president it’s clear Russia has learned nothing from the era of Soviet oppression either. Now, it has the worst of both worlds. Anyone who tries to distract attention from that fact is an enemy far more dangerous to Russia’s survival than any foreign invader.

Standing in his fetid kitchen, Sasha Ivanovich shows off a bucket of muddy potatoes. Dug from his snow-encrusted garden, they are his lunch. In fact they are his supper too as, he points out, he has nothing else to eat.

“Everything has got more expensive. Bread has gone up. Cigarettes have gone up. My sister pays my gas bill. I can’t afford vodka. Can you give me 100 roubles [£1.97]?” he asks, hopefully.

Since Vladimir Putin took power seven years ago, Russia has enjoyed growing prosperity. The days when the country was forced to borrow billions from the IMF, devalue the rouble, and beg for international help are a fading Yeltsin-era memory.

Instead, Russia has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Last month President Putin boasted that the country had paid off its $22bn (£13bn) foreign debt. Rising oil and gas prices have transformed its economic fortunes and made it a resurgent global force.

The Kremlin is now sitting on a vast mountain of cash, coyly known as the stabilisation fund. Last week it topped $103.6bn. (Others suggest Russia’s total surplus is more like $300bn.) And the American magazine Forbes recently revealed that Russia has 53 billionaires, 20 more than last year.

Unfortunately none of this has trickled down to Sasha, 56, who lives alone in a wooden cottage, and whose poor sight renders him unfit for work. Like many at the bottom of Russia’s pile, Sasha survives not through the generosity of the state but thanks to his kindly neighbours.

His home, in the village of Lavrov, is a 45-minute drive from the town of Oryol in south-west Russia, past forests of silver birch. The young people have all left and most of the older men appear to have died – hardly surprising in a country where male life expectancy is 58. Like much of rural Russia, Lavrov appears to be on its last legs, along with many of its remaining citizens.

“It was much better during Soviet times,” Tonya Fominyh, 79, says. “Pensions were small but equal. We lived well. Now our pensions are nothing.”

Mrs Fominyh receives 1,540 roubles a month from the state. She spent three decades working for the Soviet police force but now survives on handouts from her son.

So far few of Russia’s petro-billions have found their way to society’s poorest groups: pensioners, the unemployed and government employees, including teachers and hospital workers.

This month Russia’s orthodox church warned that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing wider, with some 20% of Russians below the poverty line. There is still no real middle-class and there is a significant gap between urban and rural life, the church said, warning: “Russia possesses between 30% and 40% of the earth’s resources. Revenues from exports of natural resources built the stabilisation fund. But only a very small part of society is getting richer. It is doing so at a pace that amazes even some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand, the majority of the population lives in destitution.”

It is not only pensioners in villages who are hard up. Sitting in her tiny flat in urban Oryol, Tatiana Tsherbakova gazes at a giant photo of a sun-kissed beach pasted to her living room wall. It is the Canaries, one of many places Mrs Tsherbakova, 68, would like to visit. “I don’t have the money to travel,” she explains. “It’s my great passion. I’ve always wanted to see Vladivostok. But the train ticket is too expensive.”

This is one of the strange ironies of post-Soviet Russia. Thirty years ago Mrs Tsherbakova was not allowed to travel to the west, but she took advantage of cheap internal fares to roam across the Soviet Union, holidaying in Moldova, swimming in the Black Sea and hiking in the Kazakh mountains. Now she is free to travel anywhere, but on her state pension of 5,600 roubles a month she cannot afford to.

Kremlin economists say they face a dilemma. It is impossible to raise pensions significantly, they argue, without increasing inflation, currently running at 9%. They also point out that Russia’s 38 million pensioners claim their pensions much earlier than western Europeans – at 55 for women and 60 for men.

“I don’t believe this [argument about inflation] to be true,” said Natalia Rimashevskaya, a poverty expert at Moscow’s Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population. “At the moment 30% of all salaries are below the minimum needed to live. Pensions are very low. The average is 2,500 roubles. This leaves pensioners on the edge. If prices go up, they fall into poverty.”

At his annual press conference last month Mr Putin said that reducing social inequality would be one of his key tasks before he leaves office next year.

Average salaries have gone up significantly under Mr Putin. But the statistics conceal the fact that for millions, wages have hardly changed at all, Ms Rimashevskaya said. One of the biggest problems, she added, was the tax system, which saw oligarchs and road sweepers paying an identical tax rate of 13%.

In numbers

Estimated value of Russia’s so-called stabilisation fund $103bn

The number of billionaires in Russia 53

Amount of foreign debt paid off $22bn

The average monthly pension £50

Proportion of salaries considered to be below the minimum needed to live 30%

Russia’s Poor Get Pulverized, Neo-Soviet Propaganda Continues Apace

Writing in the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, reporting from the central Russian city of Oryol, brilliantly (and horrifyingly) chronicles the desperate straights of Russia’s impoverished masses that he sees all around him.

It’s worth nothing a certain obscure Russia blogger (who shall be nameless because he’s just that contemptible and dishonest) has written that Harding’s implication that pensions have fallen under Putin is not correct. According to the blogger’s data, Kremlin-supplied information shows that pensions have remained constant or risen slightly after factoring the overall inflation rate. What the blogger, in a classic act of Russophile propaganda, doesn’t care to mention, is that it’s not the overall inflation rate that is relevant to Russians who live on $100 per month or less. For people in that position, only the inflation rate on the tiny basket of basic goods and services they can actually afford matters, and La Russophobe has previously documented that this “basic” inflation rate is much, much higher than the general rate. If the inflation rate that matters is were factored in, then you would see a significant drop in pension value throughout the Putin years even though the nominal amount has risen, exactly as Mr. Harding describes. The blogger, a fundamentally dishonest cretin, also doesn’t care to mention what every thinking person on the planet knows full well: Kremlin data simply isn’t reliable.

What’s more, of course, anyone who tries to argue that it is somehow wrong to claim that people asked to live on an income of $3 per day or less are living in horrible poverty, made even worse by the presence of a growing class of billionaires, just because their incomes are staying the same rather than falling, is engaging in propaganda that borders on criminality. Today’s Russia is no different than the Russia of 100 years ago, with a tiny elite class of super-rich presiding over a vast ocean of desperately poor people on the verge or extinction. Russia has learned nothing from the period of Tsarist oppression, and from the presence of proud KGB spy as president it’s clear Russia has learned nothing from the era of Soviet oppression either. Now, it has the worst of both worlds. Anyone who tries to distract attention from that fact is an enemy far more dangerous to Russia’s survival than any foreign invader.

Standing in his fetid kitchen, Sasha Ivanovich shows off a bucket of muddy potatoes. Dug from his snow-encrusted garden, they are his lunch. In fact they are his supper too as, he points out, he has nothing else to eat.

“Everything has got more expensive. Bread has gone up. Cigarettes have gone up. My sister pays my gas bill. I can’t afford vodka. Can you give me 100 roubles [£1.97]?” he asks, hopefully.

Since Vladimir Putin took power seven years ago, Russia has enjoyed growing prosperity. The days when the country was forced to borrow billions from the IMF, devalue the rouble, and beg for international help are a fading Yeltsin-era memory.

Instead, Russia has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Last month President Putin boasted that the country had paid off its $22bn (£13bn) foreign debt. Rising oil and gas prices have transformed its economic fortunes and made it a resurgent global force.

The Kremlin is now sitting on a vast mountain of cash, coyly known as the stabilisation fund. Last week it topped $103.6bn. (Others suggest Russia’s total surplus is more like $300bn.) And the American magazine Forbes recently revealed that Russia has 53 billionaires, 20 more than last year.

Unfortunately none of this has trickled down to Sasha, 56, who lives alone in a wooden cottage, and whose poor sight renders him unfit for work. Like many at the bottom of Russia’s pile, Sasha survives not through the generosity of the state but thanks to his kindly neighbours.

His home, in the village of Lavrov, is a 45-minute drive from the town of Oryol in south-west Russia, past forests of silver birch. The young people have all left and most of the older men appear to have died – hardly surprising in a country where male life expectancy is 58. Like much of rural Russia, Lavrov appears to be on its last legs, along with many of its remaining citizens.

“It was much better during Soviet times,” Tonya Fominyh, 79, says. “Pensions were small but equal. We lived well. Now our pensions are nothing.”

Mrs Fominyh receives 1,540 roubles a month from the state. She spent three decades working for the Soviet police force but now survives on handouts from her son.

So far few of Russia’s petro-billions have found their way to society’s poorest groups: pensioners, the unemployed and government employees, including teachers and hospital workers.

This month Russia’s orthodox church warned that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing wider, with some 20% of Russians below the poverty line. There is still no real middle-class and there is a significant gap between urban and rural life, the church said, warning: “Russia possesses between 30% and 40% of the earth’s resources. Revenues from exports of natural resources built the stabilisation fund. But only a very small part of society is getting richer. It is doing so at a pace that amazes even some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand, the majority of the population lives in destitution.”

It is not only pensioners in villages who are hard up. Sitting in her tiny flat in urban Oryol, Tatiana Tsherbakova gazes at a giant photo of a sun-kissed beach pasted to her living room wall. It is the Canaries, one of many places Mrs Tsherbakova, 68, would like to visit. “I don’t have the money to travel,” she explains. “It’s my great passion. I’ve always wanted to see Vladivostok. But the train ticket is too expensive.”

This is one of the strange ironies of post-Soviet Russia. Thirty years ago Mrs Tsherbakova was not allowed to travel to the west, but she took advantage of cheap internal fares to roam across the Soviet Union, holidaying in Moldova, swimming in the Black Sea and hiking in the Kazakh mountains. Now she is free to travel anywhere, but on her state pension of 5,600 roubles a month she cannot afford to.

Kremlin economists say they face a dilemma. It is impossible to raise pensions significantly, they argue, without increasing inflation, currently running at 9%. They also point out that Russia’s 38 million pensioners claim their pensions much earlier than western Europeans – at 55 for women and 60 for men.

“I don’t believe this [argument about inflation] to be true,” said Natalia Rimashevskaya, a poverty expert at Moscow’s Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population. “At the moment 30% of all salaries are below the minimum needed to live. Pensions are very low. The average is 2,500 roubles. This leaves pensioners on the edge. If prices go up, they fall into poverty.”

At his annual press conference last month Mr Putin said that reducing social inequality would be one of his key tasks before he leaves office next year.

Average salaries have gone up significantly under Mr Putin. But the statistics conceal the fact that for millions, wages have hardly changed at all, Ms Rimashevskaya said. One of the biggest problems, she added, was the tax system, which saw oligarchs and road sweepers paying an identical tax rate of 13%.

In numbers

Estimated value of Russia’s so-called stabilisation fund $103bn

The number of billionaires in Russia 53

Amount of foreign debt paid off $22bn

The average monthly pension £50

Proportion of salaries considered to be below the minimum needed to live 30%

Russia’s Poor Get Pulverized, Neo-Soviet Propaganda Continues Apace

Writing in the Guardian journalist Luke Harding, reporting from the central Russian city of Oryol, brilliantly (and horrifyingly) chronicles the desperate straights of Russia’s impoverished masses that he sees all around him.

It’s worth nothing a certain obscure Russia blogger (who shall be nameless because he’s just that contemptible and dishonest) has written that Harding’s implication that pensions have fallen under Putin is not correct. According to the blogger’s data, Kremlin-supplied information shows that pensions have remained constant or risen slightly after factoring the overall inflation rate. What the blogger, in a classic act of Russophile propaganda, doesn’t care to mention, is that it’s not the overall inflation rate that is relevant to Russians who live on $100 per month or less. For people in that position, only the inflation rate on the tiny basket of basic goods and services they can actually afford matters, and La Russophobe has previously documented that this “basic” inflation rate is much, much higher than the general rate. If the inflation rate that matters is were factored in, then you would see a significant drop in pension value throughout the Putin years even though the nominal amount has risen, exactly as Mr. Harding describes. The blogger, a fundamentally dishonest cretin, also doesn’t care to mention what every thinking person on the planet knows full well: Kremlin data simply isn’t reliable.

What’s more, of course, anyone who tries to argue that it is somehow wrong to claim that people asked to live on an income of $3 per day or less are living in horrible poverty, made even worse by the presence of a growing class of billionaires, just because their incomes are staying the same rather than falling, is engaging in propaganda that borders on criminality. Today’s Russia is no different than the Russia of 100 years ago, with a tiny elite class of super-rich presiding over a vast ocean of desperately poor people on the verge or extinction. Russia has learned nothing from the period of Tsarist oppression, and from the presence of proud KGB spy as president it’s clear Russia has learned nothing from the era of Soviet oppression either. Now, it has the worst of both worlds. Anyone who tries to distract attention from that fact is an enemy far more dangerous to Russia’s survival than any foreign invader.

Standing in his fetid kitchen, Sasha Ivanovich shows off a bucket of muddy potatoes. Dug from his snow-encrusted garden, they are his lunch. In fact they are his supper too as, he points out, he has nothing else to eat.

“Everything has got more expensive. Bread has gone up. Cigarettes have gone up. My sister pays my gas bill. I can’t afford vodka. Can you give me 100 roubles [£1.97]?” he asks, hopefully.

Since Vladimir Putin took power seven years ago, Russia has enjoyed growing prosperity. The days when the country was forced to borrow billions from the IMF, devalue the rouble, and beg for international help are a fading Yeltsin-era memory.

Instead, Russia has so much money that it doesn’t know what to do with it. Last month President Putin boasted that the country had paid off its $22bn (£13bn) foreign debt. Rising oil and gas prices have transformed its economic fortunes and made it a resurgent global force.

The Kremlin is now sitting on a vast mountain of cash, coyly known as the stabilisation fund. Last week it topped $103.6bn. (Others suggest Russia’s total surplus is more like $300bn.) And the American magazine Forbes recently revealed that Russia has 53 billionaires, 20 more than last year.

Unfortunately none of this has trickled down to Sasha, 56, who lives alone in a wooden cottage, and whose poor sight renders him unfit for work. Like many at the bottom of Russia’s pile, Sasha survives not through the generosity of the state but thanks to his kindly neighbours.

His home, in the village of Lavrov, is a 45-minute drive from the town of Oryol in south-west Russia, past forests of silver birch. The young people have all left and most of the older men appear to have died – hardly surprising in a country where male life expectancy is 58. Like much of rural Russia, Lavrov appears to be on its last legs, along with many of its remaining citizens.

“It was much better during Soviet times,” Tonya Fominyh, 79, says. “Pensions were small but equal. We lived well. Now our pensions are nothing.”

Mrs Fominyh receives 1,540 roubles a month from the state. She spent three decades working for the Soviet police force but now survives on handouts from her son.

So far few of Russia’s petro-billions have found their way to society’s poorest groups: pensioners, the unemployed and government employees, including teachers and hospital workers.

This month Russia’s orthodox church warned that the gulf between the rich and poor was growing wider, with some 20% of Russians below the poverty line. There is still no real middle-class and there is a significant gap between urban and rural life, the church said, warning: “Russia possesses between 30% and 40% of the earth’s resources. Revenues from exports of natural resources built the stabilisation fund. But only a very small part of society is getting richer. It is doing so at a pace that amazes even some of the richest people in the world. On the other hand, the majority of the population lives in destitution.”

It is not only pensioners in villages who are hard up. Sitting in her tiny flat in urban Oryol, Tatiana Tsherbakova gazes at a giant photo of a sun-kissed beach pasted to her living room wall. It is the Canaries, one of many places Mrs Tsherbakova, 68, would like to visit. “I don’t have the money to travel,” she explains. “It’s my great passion. I’ve always wanted to see Vladivostok. But the train ticket is too expensive.”

This is one of the strange ironies of post-Soviet Russia. Thirty years ago Mrs Tsherbakova was not allowed to travel to the west, but she took advantage of cheap internal fares to roam across the Soviet Union, holidaying in Moldova, swimming in the Black Sea and hiking in the Kazakh mountains. Now she is free to travel anywhere, but on her state pension of 5,600 roubles a month she cannot afford to.

Kremlin economists say they face a dilemma. It is impossible to raise pensions significantly, they argue, without increasing inflation, currently running at 9%. They also point out that Russia’s 38 million pensioners claim their pensions much earlier than western Europeans – at 55 for women and 60 for men.

“I don’t believe this [argument about inflation] to be true,” said Natalia Rimashevskaya, a poverty expert at Moscow’s Institute of Social and Economic Studies of Population. “At the moment 30% of all salaries are below the minimum needed to live. Pensions are very low. The average is 2,500 roubles. This leaves pensioners on the edge. If prices go up, they fall into poverty.”

At his annual press conference last month Mr Putin said that reducing social inequality would be one of his key tasks before he leaves office next year.

Average salaries have gone up significantly under Mr Putin. But the statistics conceal the fact that for millions, wages have hardly changed at all, Ms Rimashevskaya said. One of the biggest problems, she added, was the tax system, which saw oligarchs and road sweepers paying an identical tax rate of 13%.

In numbers

Estimated value of Russia’s so-called stabilisation fund $103bn

The number of billionaires in Russia 53

Amount of foreign debt paid off $22bn

The average monthly pension £50

Proportion of salaries considered to be below the minimum needed to live 30%

Exposing the Insanity of Russia’s So-Called Defense Policy

Writing in the Moscow Times Alexander Golts, deputy editor of the online newspaper Yezhednevny Zhurnal, exposes the fundamental lunacy that characterizes Russia’s defense policy:

As Carl von Clausewitz said: “War is simply the continuation of politics using different means.” Russia’s current military strategy is becoming a continuation of its cheap policies and public relations.

The U.S. Defense Department director of anti-missile defense, Lieutenant-General Henry Obering, is traveling from one European country to another to argue that the elements of the U.S. anti-ballistic missile system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic are aimed at defending the continent from Iranian and North Korean missiles. The question Obering hasn’t answered is why deploy a system that field tests have shown to be less than effective. It has not yet been proven that it is possible to destroy warheads on their path through space. So the White House looks ready to spend billions of dollars on a system unlikely to defend U.S. territory from enemy rockets. And, unlike most other proposals coming from the White House, this one has met with no domestic opposition. The European countries willing to take the systems are demonstrating their desire to follow in Washington’s wake.

Russia insists the United States is “undermining strategic stability.” When President Vladimir Putin said in his Munich speech last month that Russia must preserve its ability to strike at U.S. military forces, it was the first reference to the concept of mutually assured destruction since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Since then, Russian generals have been falling over one another to issue threats against the United States and its allies. And talk of a “miracle warhead” capable of overcoming any anti-missile defense system adds to the possibility of Russia backing out of international agreements limiting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. It also raises the specter of an Air Force strike against the installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Obering never tires of repeating that Moscow’s reaction is the result of a misunderstanding that can be resolved through the usual consultations and giving Russian military experts the proper information. Even Moscow is convinced the installations are incapable of taking out Russian rockets and that 10 anti-missile batteries could never intercept thousands of Russian missiles.

Russia knows perfectly well that the batteries are no threat to its nuclear forces. The system is a symbol of Russia’s loss of status. In 2002, Moscow viewed Washington’s decision to pull out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with deep regret. This was not because Russia perceived a serious threat to its security, but because it saw this as an attempt to strip Russia of its status as set by the treaty — the status of a country that could destroy the world’s mightiest superpower.

From the moment the United States unilaterally abrogated the ABM Treaty, maintaining a strategic military balance became a priority for this government and an obsession for Putin. The field of nuclear weapons is the only one in which Russia has preserved its parity with the United States. There should be ongoing negotiations between Russia and the United States regarding both sides’ nuclear forces, but the United States refuses to conduct them. The decades-long tradition of such talks in the past has served as proof of Moscow’s nuclear parity with Washington. And the fact that the United States now rejects such talks is taken as a terrible insult to the Kremlin. This is why the Moscow leadership gets so worked up over talk of U.S. anti-ballistic missile batteries and different possible responses. Soon, the Americans will get scared and again want to return to arms negotiations.

Only according to such logic can we explain Russia’s hints about backing out of the treaty limiting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Russian leaders are constantly complaining about the expansion of NATO and its encroachment on Russia’s borders. But if they seriously consider NATO to be a military threat, then backing out of the above-mentioned treaty would be madness. It would effectively place all of Russia in the sights of U.S. missiles. If nobody really believes in such a threat, then hints about rejecting the treaty could prove an excellent opportunity to bring the United States back into the coveted arms talks, and thereby raise Russia’s status.

In this way, the U.S. anti-missile battery and the “asymmetrical response” that Putin threatened would bear at least an indirect relationship to the issue of providing mutual security. Whatever the case, they bear a direct relationship to the shoddy policies of both the White House and the Kremlin.