LR rates the Russia Blogs
Happy birthday to us! This month, La Russophobe turns five years old, a mighty milestone, ancient in blog years.
It’s April, the month of our founding, and a young LR’s head turns once again to thoughts of blog ratings. As we did last year at this time we offer our “top ten” list of the best Russia blogs on this planet.
La Russophobe, of course, stands alone as the best Russia blog on this planet, or any other. We humbly published our 50,000th comment a few days ago to celebrate our fifth anniversary, a feat matched by no other English-language Russia politics blog in human history. Generating an average of nearly 30 comments per day for five years, absolutely unheard of elsewhere, our blog is far and away the most dynamic discussion forum in the Russia blogosphere.
Hardly any Russia blogs have our long history, and none can match our foot and comment traffic, nor has any other blog made the contribution to translating from the Russian press that we have made. We will soon collect our 3 millionth visit, the highest level of visitation ever published on a public counter by an Russia blog, ever. We are, even if we say so ourselves, the very best there is.
But the others are important too. Our content would not be the same, or as good, if we could not rely on so many other excellent blogs for inspiration and information, and today we recognize them. Excitingly, there is a new #1 this year, and there are other changes as well. Sadly Julia Ioffe and Oleg Kozlovsky, who have largely ceased blogging, have fallen out of the list, making space for two new contenders. This points to one of the key criteria in assessing a blogger: simple longevity. In our five years on the Net, we have seen so many Johnny-come-lately types appear and disappear that we can’t even remember, much less count, them all. Stamina and pure dedication may well be the most impressive characteristic of a blogger, the way to tell the women from the girls.
So let’s all give a proper WAY TO GO to the titans of the Russia-blogging world. They deserve it.
THE TOP TEN
With two bloggers dropping out of last year’s top-ten list, two spaces have opened up in this one. We fill them at #1 and #10. New to our list this year is Pavel Felgenhauer, whose list of columns on the Jamestown Foundation’s website is the barest-bones blog on our list. Even Paul Goble has more bells and whistles than Felgenhaur, and it’s arguable that Pavel isn’t a true blogger at all. But the man’s body of work is so devastating and reaches back so far, and is so exclusive to the Internet, that we feel he now deserves a place in our top 10. Our own founder, Kim Zigfeld, now has a similarly long list of publications on the Pajamas Media and American Thinker platforms, and Felgenhauer distinctly reminds us of Kim in many ways.
#9 John Helmer
What can we say about John Helmer? He’s Russia in a nutshell, and we do mean nut. He’s the New York Post of the Russia-blogging world, and as such his blog carries the most flavor of that insane, brutal, demented land known as neo-Soviet Russia. Blogging as “Dances with Bears,” Helmer is significant enough to have drawn the persecution and ire of the Putin Kremlin, and undaunted he has carried on poking a finger (likely painted pink polka dots) into the Kremlin’s eye. All we can say is: Respect! And, you jump from #10 last year to #9 in 2011.
Two of our top-ten English-language bloggers are Russians, and Alexei Sidorenko, blogging as RuNet Echo at Global Voices, is the first of the three. Nobody, not even La Russophobe, offers more insight into the Russian-language blogsphere than Sidorenko, whose blog is the only one in the world devoted to accomplishing this daunting task. Sidorenko tirelessly sifts through Russian blog posts and highlights material that would otherwise go unnoticed. Though it would be much better if he more often and more extensively translated the material he unearths, rather than simply leaving readers often to fend for themselves, beggars can’t be choosers. Nobody else is even trying to do what Sidorenko is doing, and more should be following his example.
Last year in our #7 spot was Julia Ioffe, who has sadly since given up blogging in favor of her mainstream writing career. Ioffe proved to be just a flash in the pan, not somebody with the stamina and dedication to stick with the Russia story to the bitter end. She has been bumped off the top-ten list by Vladimir Kara-Murza in the pole position, and her place ably filled by last year’s #8, Caucasian Knot. No English-language Russia blog on this planet offers a greater wealth of information about the Russia’s tortured, tortuous Caucasus region than Caucasian Knot. When talking about the Caucasus, one can’t help but also mention the indefatigable Norbert Strade‘s “Chechnya List,” but that can’t be considered a true blog, and more resembles David Johnson’s Russia List. Caucasian Knot brings readers directly inside the quagmire that is the Caucacus, and as incidents of domestic terror in Russia grow daily the blog becomes more and more essential reading. Remembering the brutal murders of other Caucasus journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, Natalia Estemirova and Stanislav Markelov, one can’t help but be awed by the courage of the Caucasian Knot bloggers, and we are indebted to them for their inside insights about the region, which plays critical role in determining Russia’s future.
Last year position 6 was taken by dissident leader Oleg Kozlovsky, who barely posts any longer to his WordPress blog, preferring Twitter and posting there rarely as well. Now, that Oleg’s spot is capably filled by Robert Amsterdam, last year’s #2 blogger, who has fallen from grace. Amsterdam no longer devotes his blog to Russia; rather, we see it infiltrated regularly by material about other countries. What’s more, he has never seen fit to fix his ridiculous problem with commenting, and it’s still not possible to see at a glance whether post has received comments or not. Still, though, Amsterdam’s unrivaled access to certain corridors of Russian power and his high public profile guarantee him a place in our top 10.
Still in the 5 position is The Other Russia. We consider the top five Russia blogs, including La Russophobe, to be indispensable daily reading for anyone truly interested in understanding current events in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It’s just this simple: If you don’t read them, you don’t really understand what is going on in Putin’s Russia. The first member of that elite group we recognize today is the English-language blog marshalled by opposition leader Garry Kasparov’s “Other Russia” opposition movement represents the voice of the highest-ranking Russian political leaders who speak out against Putin’s dictatorship. No other Russia blog offers this kind of insight and access to the corridors of anti-power, and OR’s translations are often critical windows into the Russian press. By way of constructive criticism, we can’t but point out OR’s failure to offer much direct feedback and interplay with readers. No comments, and no original pieces from Kasparov or the other members of the OR coalition. OR ought to open itself up more to reader feedback and to the inner workings of the opposition coalition. If it were doing so, it might be among our elite top five.
Holding strong at #4 academic economist Craig Pirrong, who blogs as “Streetwise Professor.” Pirrong is the highest-ranking member of top ten group of bloggers who does not devote his blog entirely to Russia, meaning that his content has to be truly special to even deserve placement in our top 10, much less the top 5, and that’s exactly what his content is: special. Nobody, not even La Russophobe, offers insight into the c0mplex world of Russian economics like SWP. After La Russophobe, Pirrong’s blog also offers the liveliest and most informative reader comments section of any Russia blog there is, insane anal-retentive drivel of the demented Russophile freaks it attracts notwithstanding. Though we rank a few other blogs ahead of Pirrong for various important reasons, his is the first blog we turn to for unique insights on a daily basis.
Rock solid in the top three, Robert Coalson’s brilliant op-ed pieces in the Moscow Times will be common knowledge to any serious student of Putin’s Russia, as will be the reporting for that same mighty little gazette of Brian Whitmore, Coalson’s protege on the formidable Power Vertical blog operated by Radio Free Europe. There is no doubt that Coalson’s blog belongs in the top five. If you think you can understand Russia without tuning in regularly to Coalson, you need to have your headski examined. PV does a unique job of melding information obtained from the Russian press and analysis gleaned from Western learning, and the bona fides of RFE in regard to human rights cannot be challenged. Something else worth mentioning about Coalson is that because of his association with Radio Free Europe his blog has the highest Google page rank of any blog in our Top 10, probably of any English-language Russia blog there is. New this year is Coalson’s podcast feature, in which he and his partner interview significant Russian newsmakers. Coalson keeps on truckin’.
#2 Paul Goble
Scholar Paul Goble takes our breath away with his work ethic and his intellect and his dedication each and every single week as he probes the Russian press an regularly unearths heroic Russians struggling to shine the light of truth on the dark malignancy of the Putin regime, and we republish his content far more than that of any other single source on Russia except the Moscow Times, where his blog has been incorporated for some time now. The only thing we can say about this outstanding and heroically courageous scholar, who like Ioffe used to, has the courage to actually blog from former Soviet space (albeit not, like Ioffe, from Russia itself), is this: Mr. Goble, we’re not worthy!! There’s no two ways about it: Goble’s blog is a physical mess. No paragraph formatting, no hyperlinks, no comments, no images. It makes no difference. Goble proves that, in the final analysis, window dressing, flash, bling and all that are just so much emptyness, what really matters is substance. And more than any other Russia blog, Goble has it in spades. Any other, that is, except for . . .
Kara-Murza, the Washington bureau chief of RTVi television, has by far the strongest credentials of any English-language Russia blogger on this planet. He burst onto the blogging scene on the World Affairs network as “Spotlight on Russia” on January 23, 2010, and has rapidly risen to become — in our eyes at least — the superstar in the Russia-blogging world. Even as the brilliant Dmitry Sidorenko of Kommersant was, tragically, giving up his blog on the Forbes network, in October 2010, Kara-Murza was charging in to fill the void. His credentials are truly awe-inspiring. Cambridge educated, he was a candidate for the Russian parliament in the 2003 elections, and from 2007 to 2008 served as campaign chairman for presidential candidate Vladimir Bukovsky. He is a member of the Solidarity opposition movement and has published opinion pieces in leading news publications, including The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. His blog posts offer the best insights into the reality of life on the ground in Putin’s Russia that can be had from the source itself in the blogosphere.