FRIDAY APRIL 22 CONTENTS
(1) EDITORIAL: The Russian Nightmare
(2) EDITORIAL: The Russian Halucination
(3) The Day Russia turned out the Lights
(4) The Doomed Russian Economy
(5) Under Putin, Russian Culture Perishes
(6) In Putin’s Russia, the Poor get Poorer
(7) English in Russian “Translation”
(8) CARTOON: Putin on the Run
NOTE: LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld’s latest installment on the mighty Pajamas Media megablog reports on the latest shocking round of Internet crackdowns by Vladimir Putin and his bestie, Barack Obama.
NOTE: Kim is also now blogging on the Global Freedom blog at the new NRB website. Her first post is live now.
NOTE: Barron’s has published a horrifying account of the investigation of the brutal state-sponsored torture and murder of Sergei Magnitsky, including a wealth of damning evidence of Kremlin corruption. It’s a must-read.
A scene from the Rose Monday Carnival Parade in Dusseldorf, Germany, February 2009. Reuters. On the gun barrel is written Freedom of the Press Putin Style.
The Russian Nightmare
Alexander Andreyechkin. Vladimir Litvinenko. Alexander Surinov. Do you know these names? If you don’t, you can’t claim to have any real understanding of Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Let us introduce you to them.
Andreyechkin wants to ban Hotmail, Gmail and Skype from use in Russia.
Want to see what somebody who would say something as venal as that looks like? Good luck trying to find a photo of him. Google images has never heard of him, but it’s not because he’s a nobody.
To the contrary, Andreyechkin is the head of the FSB’s department for protection of information and special communication, and Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, said that Andreyechkin was voicing the FSB’s official position. The FSB is the KGB, by another name.
It’s hard to say which is more a more ominous sign for Russia: That the FSB is so brazen and heedless of its own history that it can openly call for shutting down basic communication services, or that it is so incompetent that doing so is the only response it can make to its helpless inability to deal with these evil foreign systems, which apparently are far too complicated for it to manage on its own.
Then there’s Vladimir Litvinenko.
The Russian Hallucination
Russia’s most valuable company, Gazprom, has a market capitalization about $150 billion. That seems impressive, until you know that Exxon, America’s most valuable company, has a market capitalization more than double that of Gazprom.
Flip your perspective, and you see something even more amazing. Gazprom’s value constitutes more than ten percent of the total gross domestic product of Russia. Exxon’s value? It’s less than two percent of America’s GDP.
In other words, because the American economy is ten times larger than Russia’s, Exxon can fail and America will go merrily on, almost oblivious. But if Gazprom fails, Russia crashes into poverty and absolute collapse. And competing head to head in Russia’s area of greatest strength, America still wins hands down, in dominating fashion.
How is it, then, that Russians dare to continue to adopt such a provocative and hostile attitude towards the USA?
The brilliant Vladimir Kara-Murza reports:
If one were to name a particular date when Russia’s nascent democracy succumbed to Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime, April 14, 2001 would be a fairly good contender. Ten years ago the Russian government, using the state-owned energy giant Gazprom as its proxy, seized control of NTV—the country’s largest and most popular independent television channel. There were, of course, other significant dates: June 22, 2003 (the government-ordered shutdown of TVS, Russia’s last independent television channel), October 25, 2003 (the arrest of oil tycoon and opposition supporter Mikhail Khodorkovsky), December 7, 2003 (the expulsion of pro-democracy parties from Parliament in heavily manipulated elections), December 12, 2004 (the abolition of direct gubernatorial elections—ironically, signed into law by Mr. Putin on Constitution Day). But it was the takeover of NTV that was, in many ways, the point of no return.
Foreign investment in Russia fell a whopping 13% last year and is now half what it was four years ago. Vladislav Inozemtsev, professor of economics, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies and editor-in-chief of Svobodnaya Mysl, writing in the Moscow Times, explains why:
President Dmitry Medvedev publicly acknowledged last week what everyone has known for two decades: The investment climate in Russia is bad. While the measures Medvedev proposed to improve the investment climate are generally sound, there are several reasons why they won’t work.
In 2010, fixed capital investment in Russia totaled 8.35 trillion rubles in constant 2008 prices ($310 billion), the same as it was in 2007. In China, however, investment in 2010 was 14.4 trillion yuan ($2.16 trillion). One of the main reasons China’s investment level is so high is its high domestic savings. But the higher the level of savings, the lower the level of consumption.
The Associated Press reports:
A squirrel tail. Wolf teeth. Sheets of gold. Flax oil.
These are the things Vladimir Buldakov uses to work a feat of modern-day alchemy: transforming an ordinary papier-mache box into a gilded miniature masterpiece that will tell the story of saints or heroes, fairies or dragons.
Buldakov comes from Palekh, a 700-year-old Russian village where a church’s lavender onion-domes overlook snow-clad houses, a frozen river and a distant birch forest. The town is famous for its beauty, but the rare outsiders who visit come for the varnished boxes that bear its name.
Now, the unique art form, which emerged in the 1920s after the atheist Bolsheviks approved a new medium in which masters of religious icon paintings could use their talents, is struggling to find a reason to exist in capitalist society.
If it disappears entirely, its stunted lifespan will bear vivid testament to the twists of Russia’s turbulent recent history. And Russia will lose one if its hallmark trinkets, the product of an astonishingly high-skilled process.
Paul Goble reports:
The real incomes of the two least-well-off quintiles of the Russian population have fallen since 1991 while those of that two best-off have risen significantly, dramatically increasing income differentiation and potentially exacerbating class-based tensions, according to two studies by the Higher School of Economics.
“If one considers the overall figures concerning how Russia lived in 1990 and 2009,” Andrey Polunin of Svobodnaya Pressa says in reporting on these studies, “it turns out that citizens have only won as a result of reforms. Thus, consumption has gone up overall 1.45 times. But this is like an average temperature in a hospital”.
That is the trend Moscow and its supporters normally report, but if one unpacks the figures as the Higher School of Economics experts do in two reports (“The Level and Way of Life of the Population in 1989-2009” and “A Comparative Analysis of Consumption and Expenditures”), Polunin says, the picture is far more complicated and less positive.
Linguistics expert Michele Berdy, writing in the Moscow Times, exposes the hilarious ignorance of Russians attempting to translate from English. Russians are often outraged by statements made in English that they don’t begin to understand.
It’s late Saturday afternoon, and having finally accepted that spring has been canceled this year, the downcast expat trudges to the local shopping mall. Loaded down with booze and bags of high-calorie food (why not, if you’re never going to take off your parka?), you (downcast expat) trudge to the video store. You stand in front of racks of DVDs, conveniently — for the non-native speaker of Russian — divided into genres like комедия (comedy), мелодрама (melodrama) and триллер (thriller).
Putin is running away from two buzzing Russian letter “zh” characters. In translation, both of the words in the name “Live Journal” — the blogging platform that recently came under determined cyber attack — begin with “zh.”