But Always, A Hero Comes Home

The King returns. As this is breaking news, please feel free to discuss this breaking news while I write up a more substantive post. In summary:

(1) I was 75% wrong. (I gave Putin a 25% of returning to the PM; I thought the likeliest scenario would be for DAM to continue).

(2) That said, being an unrepentant Putinista, I’m very happy I was wrong – even if I lost $20 to a gambling site and a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend.

(3) In general terms, I hope this represents a left turn (VVP has come out in support of more progressive taxation), more social liberalism, and an end to DAM-style dithering and capitulation to Western interests and finance capital.

CONTINUATION. So here are my 2 cents. As you may recall, I thought Medvedev would continue in office. I gave it as a set of probabilities: DAM – 70%, Putin – 25%, Other – 5%). I’d have a lost at the casino, and in fact I did a bit, as well as a bottle of Georgian wine to a friend likewise interested in Russian politics (that said in terms of expectations I still think I made a good bet). So obviously this came as a surprise to me along with A Good Treaty, Mark Adomanis, Joera Mulders, etc. Of what I’d read on Putin, it sggested that he was becoming tired of Presidential trappings by the 2006-08 period, which I imagine implied he’d be happy in a more “hands on” job with fewer formalities than the Presidency, e.g. staying on as PM, or even (my whimsical scenario) becoming a Minister of Sports in charge of the Sochi Olympics and World Cup, or something.  That said, as a Putin supporter who was wary and concerned about Medvedev’s neoliberal tendencies, his dithering and aimless style of rule, and his excessive capitulations to Western interests, unlike many of my Russia-watching acquaintances I welcome a second Putin Presidency.

There are many objections and criticisms of this decision, of course, and I’m going to reply to the biggest ones.

Foreign investors will flee, due to the bad PR. The bad PR will continue and even intensify, at least in the short-term, but let’s face, that will be happening as long as Russia refuses to submit to the whims of the “international community” (aka the West and international finance capital). In the end analysis, as long as investors feel they are going to make money, they will continue investing in Russia. That is all they’re interested in. If not, then no amount of good PR and pro-Western credentials are going to convince them (see the Baltics or Georgia).

Besides, there are a great many other flaws with this reasoning. First, the Russian President is beholden to the Russian electorate. Putin is the most popular and trusted Russian politician. So he is an eminently logical choice once the constitutional barrier to two consecutive terms has been sidestepped. This is the whole point of democracy according to our democratists anyway, right? As Mark Chapman colorfully put it, “Putin couldn’t make the west happy unless he accidentally hanged himself in his closet while dressed in his grandmother’s clothes and titillating himself with naked pictures of Khodorkovsky.” But the fact that many foreigners suffer from Putin Derangement Syndrome shouldn’t factor into the equation.

Second, haven’t the narrative-spinning pundits and “experts” been telling us that it was the lack of certitude in Russia’s political future that was keeping all the investors away anyway? This, at least, has been removed. On the same note, I don’t see how predicting a future lack of foreign investment just because to the return of Putin makes any sense. You can argue that they will be put off by the negative perceptions made by Putin’s return. But in that case how can you demonstrate that this will be more damaging than, say, DAM constantly lambasting his own country’s business climate and corruption, and openly dissing its economy at conferences of international investors. So despite the real anti-corruption efforts, if anything Russia’s reputational capital has actually declined under DAM. Take the Corruption Perceptions Index. We can argue, and have, about the extent to which it actually reflects corruption in Russia, but there’s no question that its a very good estimate of dominant corruption PERCEPTIONS in Russia – and under Medvedev the Glorious Reformer, it has actually slipped even deeper into the gutter from 2.3/10 to 2.1/10. I have written an entire post on the damaging effects DAM has inflicted on Russia with his condemnatory rhetoric. Good national leaders seek to present their nation in a positive light, and to acknowledge problems while toning down their significance while trying to solve them; I acknowledge that DAM has made not inconsiderable progress on the latter, but has no respect for the former whatsoever.

PS. If anything, he’s even harsher on Russia than many foreigners. He sweepingly calls Russia’s judicial landscape one of “legal nihilism”, and suggests amnesties for economic crimes. At the same time, the European Court of Human Rights – not exactly known for their Russophilia – ruled that Khodorkovsky’s prosecution was not politically motivated, that it wasn’t “unfairly” singled out, and that YUKOS truly was involved in large-scale tax fraud and basically identified no problems apart from some procedural violations. Now that latter part isn’t great, but happens in all judicial systems. Case in point – the recent execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, USA, despite 7 of the original witnesses having recanted their testimonies and no direct evidence linking him to the crime ever having been found. Though I’m sure that in the warped logic of Russophic and pro-capitalist journalists procedural violations that lead a billionaire crook to jail are far worse than those that lead a possibly innocent black dude to the execution room.

It was to improve United Russia’s poll numbers. Again, have to agree with Mark Chapman: “Putin, who is supposedly falling in popularity himself, is selected for coronation in order to boost his party’s popularity? How does that work?” Besides, as I pointed out on several occasions, the demise of the so-called “party of crooks and thieves” are greatly exaggerated; according to polls, the percentage of Russians willing to vote for them was 54% in August 2011, just a shade down from 59% from August 2007. Hardly the sort of figure that would necessitate Batman Putin coming to Robin’s rescue. Chapman continues: “The fact is, some Russia watchers who were sure the candidate would be Medvedev are now trying to make it look like they were tricked by a storyline of surpassing cleverness. You can decide for yourself if you want to buy it.” I don’t. I’m okay with admitting I misread the tea leaves and fucked up a prediction.

Putting executive power in the hands of one guy for long periods of power tends not to work out so well”, as mentioned by Doug. And Joera, who speaks of Putin risking losing his legacy. I actually agree with them the most. Shades of it were already seen during the 2007-2008 period – obviously, another six years of the Presidency, or even twelve, magnifies the danger. And if Putin decides to retreat into an increasingly authoritarian crust while the economy stagnates in relative terms, the ground may be paved for the sorts of protests that toppled De Gaulle in 1968. (Which would be very ironic, given the vast array of resemblances between the two statesmen).

That said, I do think that Putin has some interesting new ideas. First, there seems to be something of a left turn in his politics. He talks a lot about raising pensions, student subsidies, etc (and these are gradually coming about). Social spending has increased rapidly. The United People’s Front. During the United Russia conference where the announcement of his return was made, Putin promised to introduce more progressive taxation in order to make the wealthy pay more and ease the high levels of inequality. This is in considerable contrast to the motley of neoliberal ideologues like Yurgens and Co. that surround Medvedev, with their one-sided focus on privatization, austerity, etc. Second, it has never been absolutely clear that Medvedev is actually more “liberal” in social and even political terms than Putin. For instance, Medvedev recently labeled Marxism (and consequently teaching, discussing it, etc) as extremism, while Putin once served as President in a coalition that included the Communists. How liberal of him. When talking with defense industry leaders about contracts being delayed and rising in cost, Medvedev thuggishly noted that people were shot for that in Stalin’s days. How liberal of him. He supports a brutal US style war on drugs, which Putin opposes. How liberal of him. Medvedev thinks it is acceptable for the imperialists to drop bombs to sow the seeds of democracy. Putin thinks it’s ridiculous and calls a spade a spade, and Western interventions a resumption of the crusades. Overall, I think Putin may overall even be the more progressive of the tandem in terms of humanism and social liberalism.

As such, I can only applaud Putin’s imminent return. Слава Путину! Слава России!

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at Inosmi.ru (Герой всегда возвращается).

Comments

  1. You didn’t see Putin master plan?

  2. Ok. Up for a second bet? I bet you that after December’s elections and UR overwhelming win, Putin will say that after all he will not run for President (btw, I couldn’t find where he said he accepted DAM proposition, just him saying it’s that “the delegates’ positive reaction was an honor”). Either Medvedev as the person leading UR will stand for President, or a third candidate will. I know it’s far-fetched, but what do you think?

  3. Wow. Just saw the news. I’ve been rooting for Putin for years and years. I hope he stays the course.

    As the spat over the Libya vote at the UN showed, however, Medvedev isn’t a puppet. On this point I wish things were as simple as the Western media portrays them.

  4. Слава! Слава! Слава царю Всея Руси!
    Now let us celebrate the return of bloody Tsar Putin with a dance and revelry of his favorite oprichniki:

  5. georgesdelatour says:

    Could you be more specific about the “social liberalism” you’d like Putin to embrace? Are you thinking of gay marriage? What other issues?

    • Realistically speaking, that isn’t happening. When nearly 90% of the population is against it, the only choice Putin has is studiously ignoring the issue.

      One thing I’m hoping for is a softening of the drug laws. In particular, hopefully Medvedev’s inane drug war initiative will be torpedoed altogether.

      • Oh yes, end to the war on drugs, please. I surely do hope we have seen the last of that asshole, Medvedev.

      • Anatoly, since this is very much off-topic, you have all the reasons in the world to ignore it, and it’s your blog, etc., but why are you hoping for a softening of the drug laws?

        Do you want to see more people’s lives screwed up by drugs? Do you rejoice whenever someone you’ve never met ruins his life potential, dies early? Most likely not. Does your heart bleed for drug sellers because under an anti-drug regime they occasionally go to jail? I don’t know, perhaps. But there’s a societally profitable trade-off here. It’s like with any undesirable phenomenon – in order to prevent future rapes you have to hurt past rapists by throwing them in jail too. One of the advantages of having a functioning state (as opposed to anarchy) is the ability to prevent enormous amounts of violence through a judicious use of small amounts of violence. You know, setting an example. And illegal drugs’ effect on previously healthy people seems to be quite violent.

        Is this stance of yours motivated by libertarianism? “Let them hurt themselves all they want, they have a right to do it?” Well, then I don’t think you’re being very consistent. I haven’t seen you endorse Ron Paul. You seem to be far more positive about Barack Obama. I think I remember you being against tax cuts for the wealthy. Well, taxes are always extracted with threats of violence. If people weren’t afraid of being thrown in jail for not paying them, no one would pay them. If your motivations are indeed of a libertarian nature, then why do you show a greater concern for a drug addict’s right to hurt himself than for a successful man’s right to keep the money he’s earned? A purely libertarian impulse would cause one to be equally concerned for both of these individuals.

        I’m not a libertarian at all, by the way. I think that people often behave in moronic, self-destructive, anti-social ways, and that a responsible government would always need to slap some of them around a bit when their selfishness and stupidity exceed certain well-defined limits. And I think that when done properly, that slapping-around serves the common good, sometimes even the good of those being slapped.

        I hope that your opposition to drug laws isn’t motivated by the tired old line that they don’t work. There were no illegal drugs to speak of in the old USSR. I’m sure that modern Malaysia is 99.999% drug-free. How can it not be? Do you think it’s immoral to compare the proportion of the population killed by drugs with the proportion of the population killed by drug enforcement? For the record, I do not consider such calculations to be immoral.

        Or maybe you imagine that drug laws are the cause of the violence that’s endemic among drug sellers in certain cultures. I don’t think it is. If the drug business became corporate, bureaucratic, like the aspirin business today, then young men who love violence would simply move on to other pursuits. Stealing cars or breaking and entering into homes or flash mobbing with intent to loot stores. Right now such men are drawn to the drug business because it’s illegal. But that business’s legalization will not decrease the number of these guys or change their personalities. The only way for a society to keep them in line is by setting scarier examples – longer sentences, more capital punishment, higher conviction rates.

        • Portugal disagrees. If you think that e.g. America’s War on Drugs has worked in any sane meaning of the word, well, that’s like just your opinion, man.

          • Futility,

            Banning something increases its price. If drugs were legal, they would be much cheaper than they are now, perhaps as cheap as salt, pepper and non-fancy spices. That would make them more popular. That would kill lots of people. So yes, I’m sure that the War on Drugs has saved oodles of people. And if the government was more serious about it, more people would have been saved. As I mentioned in my earlier comment, I don’t think many Malaysians are ruining their lives with drugs.

            • You don’t think, huh. You could’ve, I don’t know, checked, or something. A few minutes of googling:
              http://www.psychosocial.com/IJPR_13/Malaysia_Drug_Rehab_Scorzelli.html
              http://www.nytimes.com/1989/12/15/world/intensive-war-on-drugs-by-malaysia-and-singapore-shows-mixed-results.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
              http://www.bangladeshsociology.org/BEJS%20-%202.2-%20Karofi%20-%20Drug%20abuse.pdf

              The instrumentalist approach to criminal justice is just pure fail, esp. in the case of drug abuse. I realise that run of the mill law-and-order intuition tells you that harsher punishment leads to fewer crimes, but that’s not how the world works.

              People don’t start shooting H because their lives are amazing.

              • I looked a bit at the first two links. I didn’t see any comparisons of addiction rates with Western countries. Or even any before and after comparisons for Malaysia. I didn’t read the whole articles though.

                “The review of Malaysia’s intensive drug rehabilitation program indicates that it is not working in that the country recidivism rate is still over 50%.”

                Yes, but what’s the use rate? If it’s 100 times lower than in Europe, then what does the after-treatment recidivism rate tell us except for the fact that drugs are hard to quit? Everyone knows that already. What I’d be looking for is the after-hearing-about-some-hangings use rate, not the after-treatment-recidivism rate.

                I know that drugs weren’t a problem in the old USSR because I grew up there.

                Of course all else being equal, harsher punishment leads to fewer crimes. What can be more obvious?

              • “People don’t start shooting H because their lives are amazing.”

                My impressions of this admittedly weren’t gathered first-hand, but they’re definitely very different from yours. People generally start using drugs during their healthiest, happiest years, at an age when the average person subconsciously feels immortal. Why? Because they also happen to be their most impressionable, naive, stupid years. Peer pressure and all that. 60-year olds with failing hearts, deteriorating senses, increasing aches and pains, with the specter of death hanging over them aren’t a demographic that’s vulnerable to new addictions. Not on average, anyway. Healthy, immortal-feeling 17 year-olds are. Older people are cynical of others’ motivations, are less susceptible to peer pressure.

                I don’t buy the idea that people fall into that hole because they’re depressed. They fall into it out of stupidity (the young are sheep, they’re programmed by nature to follow), and THEN, while in that hole, they become depressed.

              • The USSR was a more traditional and far more equal society than modern Russia. It also had very little trade and contacts outside the soc-bloc. Is it really that surprising that its addiction rates were far lower?

                Iran certainly has few compunctions about hanging drug dealers, but they have the highest rate of heroin addiction in the world.

              • I read the article about Iran. I guess their main problem in regards to this is being next to Afghanistan.

                The Wikipedia says that 40% of their prisoners are in for drug offenses. It also says that their incarceration rate is 223 per 100,000. America’s is 743. 223 still isn’t low.

                Then I found a PDF report that says that Iran executed 96 people for drug offenses in 2008, 172 in 2009 and 590 in 2010.

                Hm, this makes the Soviet record with respect to drugs even more remarkable. The Iranian government appears to be trying to fight the problem, but the problem persists.

                As with anything sociological, millions of factors must be at play at any one time. Simple common-sensical ideas like “punishment works” are only guaranteed to show results when all else is equal, and I don’t know what Iran’s addiction rate would have been in an alternate universe in which this same Iran didn’t fight drug addiction. Ceteris is almost never paribus.

                But yes, this counterexample undermines my thesis a bit.

        • Glossy,

          Let me answer that with my own question: why are you not campaigning for the criminalization of alcohol and tobacco?

          I quite like Ron Paul, BTW. On many political issues I agree with him more than with Obama.

          • I wouldn’t have anything against any efforts to ban alcohol and tobacco. I’m not even being hypocritical about it – I neither drink nor smoke. I don’t think alcohol and tobacco are as harmful to most people as most illegal drugs, but they’re definitely harmful. So someone who wishes others well, as I certainly do, would not campaign AGAINST efforts to ban them or to make them more expensive.

            Anatoly, but you do oppose tax cuts for the wealthy. My point about you apparently being libertarian in regards to letting impressionable youngsters have a chance to screw themselves up forever, but not being libertarian about letting people keep more of what they’ve earned – that point stands.

            • Harmful because of the drug or its illegality? For instance legal alcohol is unhealthy (at least in consumption high enough for an addiction) but illegal alcohol is deathly (major source of blindness in the world).
              Another example is heroin. Its lethality is mostly dependant on sharing needles and overdose. Both of which aren’t a problem with legal heroin.

              ps. 99.999% means only 280 drug users in Malaysia which makes me wonder why the fuss is all about Iranian syabu syndicats

              • I subscribe to the theory that illegal drugs are more harmful to most people than alcohol to some extent because most genomes have had more time to adapt to alcohol than to illegal drugs.

                Alcohol seems to be least addictive for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean peoples, more addictive for central Europeans, even more addictive for northern Europeans, and it’s an existential threat for Native Siberians and Native Canadians. Why? Alcohol is a byproduct of agriculture. Agriculture was born in the Middle East (well, and in China), then slowly spread outwards. It’s like the spread of any virus – the first impact is devastating, then over dozens of generations some immunity gets built up.

                That theory makes sense to me. If it’s correct, then heroin is to most people what alcohol is to Native Siberians – a scary thought.

                So I do think that there is a link between legality and harmfulness – legality here reflects age-old customs, and customs often have some deeper meaning than mere habit.

                It takes tobacco decades to kill a person. The number of years lost to it per person cannot be very great. A 65-year-old killed by tobacco may have died of heart failure or cancer at 73. And if he smoked for 50 years, he would have felt healthy for most of them. This isn’t true for illegal drugs.

                You said that overdosing wouldn’t be a problem if heroin was legal. Accidental overdosing maybe, but how many of those overdoses are actually accidental? Drunks overdose on legal alcohol all the time. They just want more. And then more. A mind-clouding agent erases people’s sense of their limits – shocking!

              • You are comparing legal drugs like tobacco with illegal black market drugs like heroin. If you compare tobacco with pharmacy heroin than the deathrate of legal heroin isn’t that bad. To be honest it would surprise me if pharmacy heroin would be deathlier than tobacco.

                You also don’t need agriculture for alcohol. Just sugar. Problem up north is that fruit often doesn’t contain enough sugar to get natural fermentation going.

                One of the side-effects of alcohol is becoming a total idiot and even then dangerous overdoses are rare. Besides it isn’t drunks that drink themself into a coma but the weekenders

  6. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Putin is the outstanding political leader in Russia today. He is at the top of his game and is clearly the right man to lead the country through what may prove to be challenging times. The important point to make though is that who leads Russia is Russia’s business. If the Russian people want Putin as their leader, which every opinion poll I have seen says they overwhelming do, then others should respect that fact.

  7. A couple of thoughts.

    One, this is utterly unsurprising. Putin’s tenure as PM was to avoid the constitutional stricture on consecutive terms. That was obvious in 2008, and it never stopped being obvious. Medvedev wasn’t a puppet, no, but neither was he ever a serious rival.

    Two, putting executive power in the hands of one guy for long periods of power tends not to work out so well. Very broadly speaking, the longer you’re on top, the more likely you are to become isolated from reality, surrounded by sycophants and gatekeepers. You’re also more likely to become arbitrary and inefficient in your exercise of power. There are many exceptions… but they’re exceptions. Will Putin be one of them? We’ll see soon enough.

    Doug M.

    • I’ll admit to still being surprised. It wasn’t obvious to me, nor to quite a lot of other Russia watchers.

      Agreed with your second point, as mentioned in the expanded post.

  8. Any time Putin starts to feel isolated and surrounded by sycophants, all he need do is take a couple of hours and go through the day’s western newspapers. He’ll be promptly reassured that he’s the most hated man in Christendom, which ought to bring him sharply back to earth.

    Before Barack Obama, the United States was ruled by the same two families for 20 years, and a member of one of those families stood for office as the early presidential favourite against Obama. Those people might have become arbitrary and inefficient in their exercise of power, but until Bush The Younger it apparently didn’t do the country too much harm, and its status as a global superpower was never seriously threatened. What is most likely to have wrecked the USA was excessive deregulation followed by financial institutions writing their own rules, rather than an outside power. Putin is extremely unlikely to make the kind of mistakes Bush made.

    Putin has never appeared either stupid or slow to take advantage of a lesson – I imagine Medvedev’s term has been just another lesson for him, and that he has learned a good deal. His record of bringing Russia back from its knees likely has much to do with his popularity, and he will likely be expected to keep Russia from ever suffering that kind of humiliation again. Putin has never appeared anti-business or anti-investment, or to have lost his mind, which he would have to have done not to realize Russia needs investment. He’s simply not going to give away the store, like a liberal reformer such as Nemtsov or Kasparov would be more inclined to do. Business opportunities will still be abundant in Russia – Putin is a realist – but the opportunities to seize control of state assets or make crazy profits by dangling the American Dream under Russians’ noses like nostalgic catnip just got much less likely.

    • “but the opportunities to seize control of state assets or make crazy profits by dangling the American Dream under Russians’ noses like nostalgic catnip just got much less likely.”

      And make no mistake, We *boil* with fury at being deprived of the opportunity to do this!

  9. Mark, I think we’re talking past each other. You’re saying Putin is smart, he’s a realist, he’s not like those ridiculous liberals — and I agree. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

    Historically, leaders who stay in power for more than a decade tend to display poorer judgment and decreased efficiency and competence. That has nothing to do with Putin as such; it’s an empirical observation.

    The bad news is, it’s a very broad-based trend, one that applies to leaders in both democratic, semidemocratic and completely illiberal societies. The good news is, it’s a tendency, not a rule — there are plenty of exceptions, leaders who have remained competent despite many years in power.

    That said, the tendency is real. I’m not saying Putin will succumb to it; I’m just pointing out that it exists.

    Doug M.

    • Not sure if your premise is true but even if it is [citation needed] somewhat less efficient Putin is better than a highly efficient traitor or a naive Gorbachev-like idiot who thinks the West has Russia’s best interests in mind.

    • Well, it is true that rulers become more out of touch the longer they are in power. That’s why there are term limits in democracies. But even in worst case scnearios when the guy is dictator-for-life, eventually the alpha male gets so old that he either dies or is removed by the younger apes (I mean people). The real crunch comes when time comes for succession of power and the aging ruler attempts to annoint his idiot son as heir apparent. In Putin’s case, he doesn’t have a son, so should be okay. Besides, Putin will have a parliament to keep him in check.

      • There are no term limits in the British parliamentary system. Prime Ministers in Canada have been in office for over 20 years (William Lyon Mackenzie King) and 16 years (Pierre Eliot Trudeau).

        Any bleating from the UK and Canada about term limits is simple, bloody hypocrisy.

    • I’m happy to stipulate to it as an empirical model, because there’s no reason to disagree with it; it’s accurate. But as I pointed out further down, Putin cannot have been simultaneously large and in charge, and chafing at the irresponsible liberalizing ideas of Medvedev. Either they were actually Putin’s ideas, proceeding from the presumption that he has been running the show himself all this time, or he’s had four years to watch and learn while having no real voice in the international cut-and-thrust of policy vis-a-vis Russia.

      • The technical term for this is the “fallacy of the excluded middle”. There’s a whole spectrum of possibilities between the two you posit.

        Doug M.

  10. Putin made pensioners happy, but he alienated younger Russians who want to live in European country, not in Kazakhstan (sorry). It’s very hard not to look at this as a disaster.

    • @grafomanka: I got bad news for those “alienated” Russian youth: Russia will never be Europe. If they want to live in Europe, then they better move to Europe.

      • Wrong. Russia is Europe. To claim otherwise is to know no Europeans and/or Russians. That it’s not part of the same geopolitical bloc is a whole ‘nother issue altogether.

        • I am talking about geo-political bloc, not about basic culture.

          • I was talking about basic culture ))

            • I was talking about NATO. I always talk about NATO. I am obsessed with NATO. NATO NATO NATO NATO….. Eeeeeeek!

            • Well, in terms of basic culture most Russians are so far to the Right of most Europeans that they really do seem to be located in the Far East at the closest. Russia is probably the last truly conservative country in Europe and while our basic cultures may seem similar, just a 30-minute conversation with an average European would usually dispel that illusion.

              Anyway, the point is, Russia is NOT Europe.

              • Well it really depends on how you define “right”. On some aspects Russians are fairly liberal (e.g. religion – fairly secular, abortion – compare with Poland or Ireland). Women’s rights are somewhere around the European average – not as good as in the Germanic or Scandinavian regions, but probably better than in the Med countries.

                On some issues of course they’re very right-conservative, e.g. LGBT rights. But that doesn’t differentiate them from most of the rest of the former soc-bloc.

              • Far right? There are more traditionalist countries in Europe than Russia, look up Russian divorce rate. Besides and contrary to the popular opinion I think Russians are less racist/more tolerant of immigrants etc than many Eastern Europeans.

              • Giuseppe Flavio says:

                It also depends on how you define the political left. In most of Western Europe the main concern of the left seems to be LGBT rights, ecology and political correctness, while on economy the free market ideology has been enthusiastically embraced, so they don’t give a shit about worker’s rights, especially blue collar ones. But, seen through the eyes of the political left of 30 years ago, Russians appear quite leftist.
                @Anatoly
                Women’s rights are somewhere around the European average – not as good as in the Germanic or Scandinavian regions, but probably better than in the Med countries.
                That’s what I used to think years ago, but having attended several conferences in my research field in the last 15 years a different picture has emerged before my eyes. I’ve never seen a German, French, British, Japanese or Scandinavian female researcher. Just a few from USA, and a few from Poland. The few women working as researcher in Germany come from Eastern Europe. On the other hand, there is a good number of female researchers from Italy and Spain, but the country that seems to have the highest percentage is Romania. I’ve not seen many Russians working in Russia, but they too have a good number of women in research. Finally, in the last few years, the number of Chinese working in China has been on the rise, and they have a good percentage of female researchers.
                I know, it is anecdotal, limited in scope and without numbers, but still I can’t ignore it.
                Note: I write “Russians working in Russia” and “Chinese working in China” because there is a high number of Russians and Chinese working abroad, especially in the US.

        • I don’t consider Russia part of Europe, and am happy to do so. It is its own world and civilization, no matter how much its liberal / racist nationalist alliance wishes otherwise.

          • Call it whatever. Point was, Putin just brought the country closer to backward states like Central Asian republics or Belarus.

            • Oh, come on, grafomanka, that’s not fair! You know I have never been a Putin loyalist, but, come on, give the guy a chance. I assure you he won’t turn Russia into Central Asia. He’s actually very civilized, and he is also smart and competent. Right now he is the right man for the job.

          • I cannot fathom how someone who’s experienced both cultures first hand can make such a statement, other than out of some misguided Russian exceptionalism (here’s a brain-teaser for you: what’s more obnoxious, American or Russian exceptionalism?)

            How many Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Nigerian orchestral works are performed by Western orchestras, and how many by Russian ones? On the other hand, how many Russian composers are a permanent fixture of the European musical establishment? Now, answer the same question for literature. How many Chinese works are on high school reading lists where you’re from? A lot of Chinese turn-of-the-century avant-garde art in New York museums? http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/a/ad/Marevich%2C_Suprematist_Composition-_White_on_White_1917.jpg etc.

            The Five tried to create a “purely Russian” school of music, managed to infuse music with some orientalism, and dispersed; it was too restrictive, the traditions too intertwined. Nietzsche read Dostoyevsky and reacted to it as though he had found a soul-mate. Lenin read some Germans and launched a revolution based on their works.

            The integration of Russian immigrants in European countries is just about seamless. First generation. Compare to some other ethnicities. (I’m not talking about the US, their immigration is quite different — American dream, yadda, yadda.)

            The fact that Russia has the geography, the human capital, and the natural resources to be a power does not change the fact that it’s culturally European, if simply for the contributions she has made to European culture. No, Russians aren’t German. Neither are Italians, by the way, and if you think Russians are more alien to Germans than Germans to Italians, well, you’re wrong.

            • Integration is about numbers and class. Russian immigrants are small numbers and not hillbillies so it isn’t that surprising that they don’t form a problem. Besides the integration of the white Russians didn’t go that well in France to call it anything like seamless.

    • Russia really needs a western approved leader like Kasparov. Then those young Russians can enjoy the Yeltsin life to the n-th degree. The problem in Russia is that Russians project their delusions on the west instead of creating a better life for themselves. They seem to want some party/leader to give them something like welfare bums. If you want to have your mythical western utopia then stop acting like serfs. For starters protest and fight the growing bureaucracy in Russia. The current Russian regime ain’t not Stalinist analogue so you will not all be going to the gulags if you fight for your rights.

      • Thanks to Yeltsin president in Russia wields power not balanced by any restraints, and thanks to Yeltsin we have Putin. Thanks Boris!

        • Yeah, that’s true. The irony is that Russia could have become a parliamentary republic, if Yeltsin had not dispersed Duma. Now it’s too late. I think parliamentary form of government is probably best one.

  11. Alexander Mercouris says:

    The point about leaders becoming out of touch over time is a reasonable one and there are indeed many examples. However there is also the contrary trend that the longer a leader remains in power the more experienced and authoritative he or she becomes. A lot depends on the situation the leader has to deal with. If the situation is tranquil then there is a real risk of complacency setting in. If the leader is constantly tested then this is less likely to happen.

  12. And so it begins… [ominous music]
    The Western propaganda machine did not waste a moment. Quoting such respected authorities as Gorbachev, Khodorkovsky and Navalny, Western AgitProp machine rushed, with much wailing and gnashing of choppers, to predict that Putin’s return to power will bring nothing for Russia except stagnation, corruption, and even an armed uprising a la “Arab Spring”:
    The country’s most prominent whistleblower put it bluntly in June, saying Russia could face an uprising like the Arab Spring protests or the revolts which swept through several former Soviet republics in the early 2000s.
    “If they do not voluntarily start to reform by themselves, I do not doubt that this will happen in Russia,” Alexei Navalny said in an interview.

    (Navalny should know, American professor gave him A+ in that seminar at Yale University in “how to use your Twitter account to foment revolution”.)
    I read Navalny’s comment as a not-so-veiled warning from NATO to Russia: “Re-elect Putin, and we will do you like we just did Gaddafy.”
    Russian people should respond to this threat with a resounding raspberry, IMHO.
    (Or, they could elect Zhirinovsky instead. “You don’t like Putin? Fine, we give you Zhirinovsky.”)

    • I read Navalny’s comment as a not-so-veiled warning from NATO to Russia: “Re-elect Putin, and we will do you like we just did Gaddafy.”
      Really? You read it this way? It isn’t hyperbole for dramatic effect or anything? ’cause if so, you’re part of the problem. Just sayin’.

      • Well, what would look like Libya? You’d need an indigenous Russian uprising to turn against the government, driven in large part by personal hatred of Putin. This uprising would have to take over about a third of the country, including the second largest city. A large chunk of the military would have to defect to join it, along with several cabinet ministers. And if that were to happen…

        … NATO would sit absolutely quiet, since Russia, unlike Libya, is a major power with nuclear weapons, a functioning air force, an air defense system, a navy, and a large, competent army. Libya, let’s note, had none of those things.

        NATO isn’t even going to take on Syria, for goodness’ sake.

        Doug M.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          This has to be right. Talk of NATO intervention in Russia is fanciful. So in my opinion are Arab Spring scenarios.

          I do not know by the way why people think that a popular rising could happen in Russia. None has happened in Russia since 1917. The USSR’s fall did not happen because of a popular rising in Russia but because of a power struggle within the elite. Nor did a rising happen in Russia in the 1990s when economic conditions in the country were very bad.

          • I am not talking about a genuine popular uprising in Russia, I agree that is remote probability, except maybe in some areas of the Caucuses. The point is that Arab Spring revolts are not all that genuine either. There is some minor internal element of spontaneity, the rest comes from outside agitators in Europe and Washington. You think this is conspiracy theory? Not at all, it’s all out there, to anyone who can read the papers. All that NATO needs on the military side is some small but determined groups of insurgents/militias to fund and promote (Islamists make excellent cannon fodder, because they are fearless), and, on the political side, a few “respectable” politicians (Nemtsov, Navalny, etc.) who are willng to serve as the “democratic government in exile”, waiting patiently for the moment of regime change. The third component is the “bogeyman”, the ruthless, corrupt dictator who must, for the good of the international community, be hunted down and dragged off to the Hague for trial. I was just linking the Reuters article to show that, yes, the demonization of Putin has already begun, even before a single Russian has cast their vote for him. Expect more of this, a major propaganda blitz in the coming months.
            Yes, Russia’s nukes are a serious deterrent to above scenario, I agree with that.

            • I’m sorry, but that’s nonsense. Do you seriously think the Tunisian revolt against Ben Ali was started by foreigners? Up until a couple of days before he fled, the French government was still firmly backing him.)

              As for Libya, back in late February and early March the Libyan insurgents took over a third of the country in just a couple of weeks, despite having pretty much no leadership, no funds and no equipment. That doesn’t happen with “some minor element of spontaneity”; to get that kind of explosive collapse over much of the country, you need a broad-based popular revolt.

              This is not to say that Arab Spring revolts can’t get hijacked by outside elements. This could yet happen in Libya, and it’s in the process of happening right now in Syria — where, if you’re paying attention, you can watch democracies Israel and Turkey quietly supporting the dictator (while publicly condemning him), and the autocracies of Saudi Arabia and Qatar funding the opposition (while publicly supporting the regime).

              Doug M.

              • Not to mention each and every report of this-many protesters being ruthlessly gunned down by government forces, or “11-year-old child shot by Assad’s thugs” carrying the suffix, “according to activists”. It has apparently become de rigueur in reporting to take the word of an engaged party that has a vested interest in the outcome predicated by that reporting.

          • Russians like to bitch and whine instead of creating civil society action. I guess they can be forgiven since they have not had any such culture for the last 500 years. But it is really disappointing to hear the young generation acting like their parents instead of grasping the historical moment to consolidate democracy. All the western bleating on Putin and his “regime” is utter rubbish. You can’t deliver democracy from the top down. It has to be grass roots. But the grass roots sit on their asses and whinge instead of “voting the bums out of office”. If United Russia is a corrupt husk then vote for some fringe party on the ballot, this isn’t the 1970s with a single name on the piece of paper.

        • NATO was/is thinking about doing Syria too. But still struggling to absorb Libya. They bit off more than they can chew.

          • No, they bit off pretty much exactly as much as they could chew.

            I’ve been writing about Libya for months now. If you’re interested, my stuff is over at Noel Maurer’s blog (noelmaurer.com).

            For the record, I predicted NATO’s victory back in April, and put a date on it (August) in May.

            Doug M.

            • Yes, I will check out your blog. I guess your predictions were more accurate than mine, I gave the odds to Gaddafy’s forces right up until weekend when rabbles took Zawiya, that was when I knew it was all over. Or is it?… Might be guerilla wars for some time to come. Loyalists still holding out in Bani Walid and Sirte; now looks like Algeria is secretly helping loyalists. Tuareg and African tribesmen hiding out in desert, maybe even a secret tank army lurking where even NATO drones can’t find them…
              Anyhow, NATO’s military victory was not predetermined, not at all. There were times when things could have gone either way. I think it was a combo of NATO’s determination to keep up with the bombing (and no popular opinion in Europe or USA forcing them to stop) for as long as it took to keep Sarkozy/Cameron from losing face; plus, the Sarkozy/Qatari weapons drops to rebs in Nafusa Mountains, plus Al Jazeera trickery and disinformation that helped Al Qaeda militias seize Tripoli. Mostly the air campaign and the vicious rebel reign of terror in areas cleared for them by NATO bombs.
              So, got to give jihadist devils their due, they won. However, rabble coalition still pretty shaky, especially with tensions still simmering from Younis assassination, conflicts between western ставленники and Al Qaeda elements (Belhaj, etc.) In short, it’s complicated, and it ain’t over yet, not until the Fat Lady sings.

              • “maybe even a secret tank army lurking where even NATO drones can’t find them…”

                Merry laughter.

                “Anyhow, NATO’s military victory was not predetermined, not at all.”

                Actually, it pretty much was. The only question was how fast it would happen.

                “Al Qaeda militias seize Tripoli. ”

                99% of Libyan rebel fighters had nothing to do with Al Qaeda.

                Doug M.

            • I didn’t follow the Libyan conflict in any detail, so I didn’t make predictions, but that is extremely impressive. Congratulations, Doug!

              Do you think you were lucky to get the month exactly right, or did you calculate it based on concrete and objective factors that were expected to be accurate?

              • Thanks, Anatoly. I get plenty of stuff wrong, so it’s nice to nail one sometimes.

                Metrics: The Kosovo precedent, five minutes with Janes, and the rough rule of thumb that it takes around 90 days to turn untrained conscripts into soldiers.

                Kosovo precedent: it took 77 days for Milosevic to break. 1999 Serbia was different from Libya in a lot of ways, but the differences tended to cancel each other out. Like, Serbia was overall poorer, but had a better air defense system; KLA was less of a fighting force than the Libyan rebels, but NATO’s strategic goal was simpler. Adding it up, Libya looked a bit tougher than Serbia, but not greatly so. Maybe twice as difficult? That would give around 154 days of bombing, give or take. As it turned out, Mermaid Dawn started on day 153 of the bombing campaign, which I have to admit left me a little startled.

                Janes: how many sorties were being flown, and what kills were they claiming? Discount those claims by 25% to 50%, then look at how much stuff Qaddafi actually had. If NATO is claiming an average of 10 tanks / day, they’re probably really killing 5-7 tanks / day. If Qaddafi has 500 tanks, then in 90 days they’ll all be dead (or very well hidden and no longer effective). Details of Libya’s military could be found online, and NATO gave daily briefings on claimed kills, so this was pretty easy.

                Training: once the rebels reached rough parity with Qaddafi government forces in terms of training, tactics and organization, it was going to be a battle between “army with an air force” and “army with no air force”. And there’s only one way that ends.

                So how long would that take? Well, US army basic training is 9 weeks for all units, 16 weeks for infantry combat units. The Libyan rebels would force the curve a bit by being under actual combat conditions, but OTOH they’d suffer from divided commands and a lack of formal organization, and I figured those things would cancel each other out.

                (It helped that the quality of Libya’s formal military was quite low to begin with. The rebels weren’t going up against the Israeli Defense Force or the US Marine Corps. They just had to match an army that had lost wars to Tanzania and Chad.)

                A few minutes of BOTE noodling, and I noticed that all three of those curves seemed to go critical around mid-August.

                Incidentally, the old Soviet concept of the “correlation of forces” was very helpful here. The more you looked at the situation, the more clear it was that Qaddafi was trying to fight his way up an ever-steepening slope. There were interlocking strategic, tactical, diplomatic and internal-political dynamics all affecting each other in feedback loops; basically, the worse things went for him, the more likely things would go even worse yet.

                Incidentally2, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who made these calculations. You’ll notice that Obama and Cameron never showed the slightest signs of apprehension (Sarkozy did, but Sarkozy is a jittery little thing). And neither did the professional military men — Gates got annoyed with the NATO allies, but that was something else again. Of course, politicians and military leaders always try to show unblemished confidence — but if you’re paying attention, you can usually pick up on the nervousness (Kosovo) or the flop sweat (Afghanistan). There was none of that here; these guys knew they had a winner on their hands.

                Notice, too that the authorization was for six months, and the military collapse of Qaddafi’s regime took place in… just a little under six months. I’m not sure this was a coincidence.
                Not being conspiratorial here. More like, if some random guy on the internet can do these calculations? I’m pretty sure that professional military men and diplomats could too.

                Doug M.

    • Navalny should know, also, because he has hinted at Russia’s leaders being forcibly removed if they will not go willingly before this. As described in Kovane’s colourful “A Dark Side of Alexei Navalny”, Navalny talked revolution with the irrespressibly nutty Yevgenia Albats in an interview with her “New Times”.

      http://marknesop.wordpress.com/2011/05/20/a-dark-side-of-alexei-navalny/

      ““I think that the power in Russia will change not by an election process; they can elect whoever they like in March of 2012, but everything will be finished by April”, and then clarifies – “by something like a Tunis scenario”. Answering the question “Do you expect the wave from the bottom”, he says – “No, I don’t wait for it, I’m organizing it. We don’t know when it will happen, but it’s within our power to bring it closer. The current Russian authorities are thieves and swindlers. We must fight against them, exert pressure on them, create problems for them, and involve more and more people in creating problems. This pressure can be of different kinds – from simple negotiations to mobs on the streets that drag civil servants from their cabinets and hang them. And the faster authorities realize that and start negotiating, the less plausible the violent scenario becomes. I don’t think that any political technologies or twitter can make people come out on the streets and chase away thieves and swindlers, so normal people could take over.” He goes on and on vilifying the current Russian power, MVD and FSB in particular. And later makes another interesting remark – “Medvedev knows that there’s a grey system of money bonuses for high-ranking officials in our state, which was created during the time of struggle against YUKOS, ostensibly so evil Khodorkovites weren’t able to bribe anyone. All these people receive cash monthly in one of the state-owned banks.”

      Not to keep on about it or anything, but I’ve seen people “detained for questioning” in enlightened western democracies for that kind of talk. Obviously, you can get away with it in Russia. I’m sure there’s a lesson there somewhere.

      • Well, obviously if Navalny and his friends began to provoke armed resistance (or hanging civil servants from lampposts), then it goes without saying the Russian military/police would respond with force. Maybe they would crack a few oppositionist skulls with their police batons. And maybe that would give the American-controlled U.N. an excuse to, say, pass a resolution granting NATO permission to establish a no-fly zone or use force to protect these innocent Russian civilians against this tyrannical government which wants to harm “its own people”. BTW, I want to start a new “drinking game”: everybody gets to take a shot whenever somebody in western media pronounces the 3-word combination his own people, as in “Saddam is gassing his own people“, or “Gaddafy is murdering his own people…” etc.
        Okay, I’m not THAT paranoid, I KNOW that Russia has ability to veto such a resolution and tell USA to go frack itself.

      • If the average Russian sits and does nothing then the initiative belongs to lunatics. The best way to shut these vermin down is for the Russian electorate to be more active in fighting for its rights. In many ways, Putin’s presidency was too good for Russia. Ten more years of Yeltsinism (i.e. banana republic puppet rule from the enlightened west) would have seen Russia turned into a real 3rd world country and broken up into pieces. Maybe then Russians would have realized that they should actually do something to take control of their lives instead of waiting for some saviour to hand prosperity to them on a sliver platter.

  13. Alexander Mercouris says:

    One of the great problems in discussions about Russia is the way in which they become clouded with words that are actually meaningless. Reading the Reuters article and various other articles one is struck by the free use of words such as “stagnation”, “torpor” etc to describe the condition of the country. What do these words in fact mean? In what sense is Russia “stagnating”? How does the election to the Presidency of the country’s most popular politician signal stagnation? It seems to me that the true meaning behind these words is that they signal the colossal sense of grievance felt by a very small number of people (and their western backers) that they are not themselves in power.

    • “It seems to me that the true meaning behind these words is that they signal the colossal sense of grievance felt by a very small number of people (and their western backers) that they are not themselves in power.”

      If I had the luxury of a lifetime in literature and a political education second to none, I could not have expressed it better. Unfortunately, their western backers are of the same mind, and DO have access to resources other than helpless frustration.

  14. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    There is another interesting news today, Mr. Kudrin declared that he won’t work in a future government headed by Medvedev, due to disagreements on economic policy. I wonder if this is a sign that Russia will start spending the reserves internally (e.g. the defence sector) instead of using them to buy western debt.
    On Italian media the reporting is similar to the other western sources, but with an added detail. During the voting at the UR congress, there was just one “no” that enraged Putin to the point that he asked ominously who dared to disagree, but received no answer. I suspect this incident isn’t true for two reasons:
    1) English language media don’t mention the incident (but I admit I haven’t made a through search);
    2) the “details” of the incident are contradictory and incomplete. It is not clear if it was the proposal to have Medvedev as UR head, or Putin as candidate for president that got the “no”, sometimes the vote was held with a secret ballot, sometimes by hand raising (in this case Putin was enraged but didn’t ask anything).
    Can someone shed some light on this incident?

    • Guiseppe, I guess that was a joke by Putin. I heard that when he learned that someone voted against he asked, “And who might be that dissident?” Very much in his style. And I certainly didn’t hear anything about him being enraged.

    • 15:23. Ирина Граник

      Путин продолжает вести заседание. Список утвердили. Один голос против. Путин говорит со смехом: “Ну и где? Где этот диссидент? Хоть бы показался!” Но никто не вышел. “Ну и зря”, — сказал Путин. Он передал право вести съезд Медведеву.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      @kovane, @peter
      Thanks for answering my question. In the meantime, I’ve found a mention of the vote on RIA Novosti. I didn’t know that Putin likes to joke, even about his supposed authoritarianism.
      @Alexander Mercouris
      I agree, the western narrative about Russian politics is totally wrong. The KPRF and LDPR are barely mentioned, while the “democratic” opposition is blown out of proportion. IMO, the “democratic” opposition is just a bunch of clowns that make a living by putting on a show for the western press.

      • @Giuseppe: I don’t know about this particular incident, but it is well known that Putin is far from humorless. In fact he is known for a quite wicked sense of humor. His bon mots are collected in books. He is like the Russian Oscar Wilde.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          I think there’s no hope to have an Italian or English translation of these collection. The way Putin is described in Italy always reminds of these verses:

          Caron dimonio, con occhi di bragia
          loro accennando, tutte le raccoglie;
          batte col remo qualunque s’adagia.
          (Dante, Inf. C. III, vv. 106-108)

          Translation:
          Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,
          Beckoning to them, collects them all together,
          Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.

          • Alexander Mercouris says:

            Thanks for clarifying this incident.

            On the subject of Putin’s sense of humour, there was a preposterous example some years ago in which the western media took entirely seriously a joke Putin made about how he and Mahatma Gandhi were the only leaders who believed in the right of peaceful protest. The comment even provoked an editorial response in The Times.

          • Wow, talk about demonization of Putin. Et tu, Dante!
            :)

          • You can see the incident with the “enraged” Putin in this video

            at 0:45 to 0:57 and from 1:40 to 2:06. He’s clearly very enraged!

            • Giuseppe Flavio says:

              Thanks!

            • @Sam: Thank you for clip of United Russia congress, very interesting and very instructive. Two points:
              1.) Putin’s “rage” against the one dissident who voted against him reminds me of a grown man’s amusement when his 3-year-old baby attempts to defy him and punch at him with his tiny fists;
              2.) The final segment in the last 30 seconds, where Putin takes the mike again, and everyone stands at attention, and poor Medvedev looks quite glum, but stands to attention and gives it his game face… well, that’s just precious… I must be a bad person, because I experienced serious Schadenfreude watching Medvedev’s humiliation.
              Speaking of predictions, the one man who got it exactly right was Bykov, recall his awesome prophetic poem about the tandem, especially the final verse (the poem is in the 1st person plural, royal “we”, with Putin obvious speaking):
              Кому-кому, а нам известно,
              Хоть пять корон себе надень:
              Коль наша тень меняет место,
              То мы отбрасываем тень.
              И пусть порой он смотрит злобно
              И даже пыжится, как царь, –
              Тень ляжет так, как мне удобно,
              И мы подружимся, как встарь.

              That final line is simply precious: И мы подружимся, как встарь. (“We shall be friends again, like before.”)
              Did it not come to pass exactly as Bykov predicted? Bykov gets Nostradamus Of Year Award, IMHO.

  15. Alexander Mercouris says:

    Dear Giuseppe,
    Sorry, I cannot find anything about the incident to which you refer.

    Kudrin’s resignation is interesting because he is invariably touted in the west as one of the “liberals” in the Russian government. It turns out that he will not serve under the “liberal” Medvedev because of disagreements he has with him! In other words the two supposed “liberals” in the government cannot agree with each other but both think highly of the “hardliner” Putin!

    Actually I do not think either Kudrin or Medvedev are really liberals. Anatoly has identified some of Medvedev’s statements/actions that are not “liberal”. In addition it seems that Medvedev has been pushing for much higher defence spending than Kudrin wants, which is hardly what one would expect from a liberal. As for Kudrin, it is banal to refer to him as a “liberal” simply because he insists on proper financial discipline.

    I suspect that the real reason for Kudrin’s resignation is disappointment that he was not made Prime Minister as he expected. However the reasons given by him for his resignation shows how way off beam western reporting of Russian politics and of the workings of Russia’s government has become.

    • If we accept the premise – hammered home daily by both bloggers and established media sources such as Time Magazine and The Economist – that Putin has been the sole power and guiding hand of Russia all the while that his puppet Medvedev has been chattering from the throne, then we must ipso facto accept that the heretical liberal ideas of Medvedev were, in reality, the liberal ideas of Putin.

      If that’s unacceptable, then Medvedev must of a necessity have been a maverick voice and influence of his own, and his ideas and policies must be evaluated from that standpoint. But you can’t have it both ways – that Medvedev exerted a moderate and modernizing force upon state policy, but Putin was secretly pulling his strings the whole time.

  16. So people, let’s move on to what is probably the most interesting part of Russian politics now: what is Alexei Kudrin up to?

    He says he will decline a role in the next government, citing policy differences (esp. defense spending) with Medvedev. Is it:

    (1) A ploy to have VVP appoint him instead of DAM as PM?

    (2) A genuine criticism of what he perceives the government’s imminent fiscal overstretch? (directed versus DAM, and not VVP, because DAM is now the lame duck)

    (3) Something else?

    Second question (and I think resolution of the Kudrin question will make this clearer), to what extent will Putin’s Presidency represent a new “left turn”? There have been contradictory signals here. On the one hand, spending continues to ratchet up on pensions, public salaries, etc.; but also Putin has talked of the necessity of continuing economic reform and even austerity (presumably after the elections). So what’s the deal here?

  17. @doug: Ran out of “reply” space above. On your Libya predictions: Agree with most of your metrics, and I do see now that the outcome was pretty much pre-ordained, GIVEN that there was no political opposition in Europe to allowing their governments to do this war. Your point about (army + air force) always trumping (army with no air force) is an excellent one. In this particular division of labor, NATO served as the air force, and the rebs served as the army. Your point about Gaddafy having a lousy army is also a good one. Dictators of the world, learn this lesson: Buy yourself a GREAT army! (And get nukes too.)
    On “secret tank army” – well, you may laugh, but there were reports of loyalists using ancient smuggling routes through the desert to move men and arms from Fezzan into Niger and Chad. Also reports that some of the aquifer system pipes were of wide-enough calibre to drive a truck or tank through. Fanciful though, yes, I agree. And probably just wishful thinking on my part, since I took loyalist side in this conflict. (That’s the story of my life: I always seem to pick the losing side… thank goodness I am not a hockey fan…)
    On “Al Qaeda” ties, clarification: I am not saying all rebs are Al Qaeda. Agree most of them (I don’t know exact percentage) have probably never even heard of Al Qaeda. But some of the Benghazi militias, and definitely the Belhaj militia that took Tripoli are 100% pure unadulterated Al Qaeda. Even American “Time” magazine is fussing a bit about the Islamists in Libya and hoping against hope that these bearded barbarians have finally learned some manners and will not attack the West any more. Jihadists may be a small minority of rebel movement, but they are the ones with the guns, so this give them disproportionate political power too. In any event, there is no doubt that rebs are a reactionary monarchist/Islamist political movement. NATO obviously believes they will be able to whip them into shape and control them like they do the Kosovo Islamists. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Maybe 9/11 and Al Qaeda attacking America was just a one-time fluke that will never be repeated. In any case, I stand by my prediction there there will still be a guerilla war in Libya. Not going to make any further predictions beyond that, my crystal ball is a bit cloudy right now…

    • The problem with buying yourself a great army is that the army commanders may start thinking, hey, this great army should have some say in running the country. A lot of dictators have come to grief this way.

      Nukes bring their own set of problems, but that’s a story for another thread.

      Secret tank army — one of the quiet developments of the last decade has been the upgrading of satellite technology to the point where satellites can now provide useful tactical information in realtime. Maybe you could move tanks around underground, but the moment they come out, screens will light up from Malta to St. Louis. The Apaches leave the carrier a few minutes later, and at that point the question is no longer “what can I conquer with my secret tank army” but “do my men have enough time to get out and run, run, run before death descends from the skies”.

      Tanks without air cover or air defense, when the enemy has a functioning air force? are death traps at the best of times. Tanks without air cover or air defense *in a desert*? You’d do better to take your tank crew out, shoot them, and then sell the tank for scrap metal. At least you’ll make a few dollars, and the families will be able to have open-casket funerals.

      Belhadj — Belhajd himself is an Islamist guerrilla and an ‘Afghan Arab’ with close links to various Islamist groups, including the Taliban. But that’s not the same as being “al Qaeda”. As far as can be told — and, to be fair, that’s not far — Belhadj has never been an active member of al Qaeda. Given his background, he’s certainly a sympathizer; what we used to call a fellow traveler, back in the old days. He probably thinks they’re awesome! But that’s not the same as being under their instruction.

      As to “the Belhadj militia”, Belhadj was commanding something like 5,000 men. It’s physically impossible that all 5,000 of them were “pure unadulterated al Qaeda”. (In fact, the bulk of them were guys from Tripoli who fled to the mountains during the first few months of the war.)

      “they are the ones with guns” — ha ha no. Everyone has guns now. The Islamists have guns, the secularists have guns, the easterners, the westerners, the pissed-off guys from Misrata who want to know what reward they get for having survived a pocket Stalingrad, the Berbers — they’re all armed, and many of them are quite heavily armed. That — not “al Qaeda” — is what will make postwar Libya so very interesting.

      Kosovo Islamists — dude. Kosovars are beer-drinking, disco-dancing, thong-and-bikini-at-the-beach southern Europeans. There’s a tiny — like, less than 1% — minority of bearded Wahhabis, but the average Kosovar is about as Islamist as Angela Merkel. I’ve spent weeks in Prishtina and I could count the number of veils on the fingers of one hand. And I’d have fingers left over.

      The Saudis have thrown hundreds of millions at Kosovo for building mosques and madrassas; the Kosovars thank them, pocket the money, and go back to drinking rakia, watching Brazilian soap operas, and sitting in cafes admiring the girls in their miniskirts. “Muslim”, for most Kosovars, means “don’t let your parents see you eating pork”.

      But this is drifting off-topic for a thread about Vladimir Putin.

      Doug M.

      • Alexander Mercouris says:

        To answer Anatoly’s question I think Kudrin is both disappointed not to have become Prime Minister and has had genuine disagreements with Medvedev over spending. It is clear that the two men do not get on. Having said this, I suspect that Kudrin did not think through fully the consequences of what he said. The fact that he tried to cling on today and even said that he wanted to speak to Putin before handing in his resignation is a sign that he did not really want to resign.

        As to whether Putin’s comments amount to a left turn, I do not know but I would make the point that by Anglo American standards Putin and indeed the political culture in Russia already are pretty left wing. No one in Russia has ever won an election fought on a universal franchise by claiming to be right wing. As I remember the liberals back in the late 1980s actually had to pretend that they were left wing in order to gain political credibility, which confused many people at the time. Moreover not only do I think that the culture in Russia is left wing but I think that with time it is actually becoming more so.

        This is not just a matter of semantics. Russians make assumptions about society and the economy and about the role of state in both that would certainly be considered left wing in the Britain or in the United States.

        As for Putin, one reason why he is as popular in Russia as he is, is surely because he understands and largely shares the attitudes of his people. If I am right and if Russian opinion is becoming gradually more left wing then it is logical that Putin would position himself further to the left as well.

      • Okay. You make a good point that a nation at war will not be able to employ its fabulous tank army without good anti-air defense. Maybe you can answer a question I have been asking for quite a while, and nobody seems to know the answer: Why did Gaddafy not have anti-air defense? Did he not have radar? Why was he not able to shoot at least some of those things down?

        • Basically, because he was an idiot.

          Longer answer: because he was a charismatic megalomaniac whose regime was based on theater, not on having an actual, functioning military.

          Qaddafi spent a lot of money on military hardware. Billions! But he spent it like a six-year-old in a candy store: give me some of those, and some of those, and oooh! those are pretty — I want them too. So he ended up with a weird hodgepodge of equipment — American, French, Russian, even some Chinese stuff. He had no unified strategic doctrine for using any of it. And his military was not inclined to challenge him — if the Brother Leader wanted to buy a dozen useless but cool-looking Scud missiles, the generals just nodded and said, yes, Brother Leader, sounds great.

          This was particularly bad for air defense, because air defense is a highly technical field that is also incredibly boring and non-dramatic. Air defense emplacements cannot be paraded through the streets of the capital. Building an air defense involves building a complex and precise network of radar, command-and-control units, missiles and guns. And then you need a really competent professional military to run them. Qaddafi had no interest in any of that stuff.

          — To be fair to Qaddafi, he wasn’t anticipating a war with NATO. Why would NATO attack him? Most of those countries were his customers! And several NATO governments — most particularly Italy’s, but some others as well — were run by friends; Libyan-Italian relations were close and warm right up until, oh, the second week of March or so.

          Also, when calling Qaddafi an idiot, one must note — in fairness — that he managed to stay on top for forty-two years. That’s a pretty good run. So, when criticizing his decisions, we should keep in mind that they were successful (in terms of keeping him in power) for many years.

          — BTW, Serbia had a decent air defense system. Not great — it was old stuff from the ’70s and ’80s, and not well maintained — but decent. NATO had to spend a lot of time and effort degrading it before they could get to work, and the Serbs still managed to shoot down a plane or two.

          Syria’s air defenses are believed to be quite good. (They should be — the Syrians have had several painful lessons at the hands of the Israelis.) This is one of several reasons that a NATO attack on Syria is very, very unlikely.

          Doug M.

          • Thanks for reply, Doug. Is very educational. I imagine many nations military academies will be studying Libya war for a long time and learning appropriate lessons. Especially about importance of anti-air defense.
            Quick note on Gaddafy’s relationship with NATO, obviously he did not expect attack coming from that direction. Most of his efforts seemed to be directed to internal threat (Benghazi, Islamists, disgruntled tribes, etc.). To be sure, Gaddafy had been attacked by West before, but nothing life-threatening. Then, when 9/11/2001 happened, Gaddafy enjoyed period of serious détente with West, along the lines of “my enemy [Islamists] is your enemy, so now we are friends.” What followed was his cozy relationship with Tony Blair and American CIA; among others, they rendered Belhaj to him for torture. (I bet Gaddafy wishes now Americans had simply shipped Belhaj off to Gitmo, where he would still be languishing to this day instead of being military governor of Tripoli.)
            Gaddafy obviously became complacent about his nice relations with West and did not take into account that all alliances are only temporary.
            Similar thing happened with Russia: after 9/11 Putin was filled with native hope that Americans would now “open their eyes and see” just how violent and evil Islamists were, and now maybe they would stop funding Chechen insurgents, etc. But, despite his good personal relations with George W. Bush, Putin’s hopes at an anti-Islamist alliance were soon dashed, West made it clear they would continue to support Caucasian insurgents in every way; Beslan terror attack was the final straw; unlike Gaddafy Putin stopped being in state of denial. Now that he will be back in power, I do not believe Putin will continue Medvedev’s policy of appeasing NATO. Already United Russia is talking about spending big bucks to beef up Russian military. I personally hope they focus on the more technical elements that you speak of.

  18. Alexander Mercouris says:

    I have just seen television film of the exchange between Medvedev and Kudrin in which Medvedev told Kudrin to go. It did not look to me pre scripted. If I understood it properly (I do not speak Russian) Medvedev mentioned in passing earlier discussions with Kudrin concerning the possibility of Kudrin’s resigning from the governnment and joining a right wing group (presumably Right Cause). Apparently Kudrin turned the suggestion down and elected to remain in the government instead. Medvedev also all but said that Kudrin had failed to make known his disagreements to Medvedev before announcing them in Washington. Medvedev in fact appeared to go out of his way to say that if anyone in the government did indeed have concerns about policy then he should discuss them with the President before making any public announcements.

    If I have understood this exchange correctly then it would seem

    1. That the possibility of Kudrin leaving the government has been under discussion for some time; and

    2. That Kudrin on the contrary indicated a strong preference for remaining in the government rather than leading or joining an opposition group.

    3. That Kudrin is overstating the extent of his prior disagreements with Medvedev and that these were not as intense as he is now saying.

    If this is right then I am afraid that I interpret Kudrin’s outburst in Washington yesterday as almost certainly due to disappointment at not having been appointed Prime Minister rather than to any substantive policy disagreements. It would seem that he refused the offer of joining and perhaps leading Right Cause in the expectation or hope that he would be appointed Prime Minister. When this did not happen he let his disappointment show and is now paying the price.

    • Here’s the video. Sean has a transcript.

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUS1y2TFjLc?rel=0&w=480&h=360

      The discussions did happen. DAM hasn’t always been happy with Kudrin’s public pronouncements, e.g. his bizarre claim in April 2009 that bad economic conditions in Russia will persist for 50 years.

      (This is the guy, BTW, whom the liberal pundits are talking up as presenting a “good image” of Russia to foreign investors! LOL…)

      Anyhow, in response, DAM said in May 2009: “Когда отдельные мои товарищи, в том числе по правительству, говорят о том, что Россия 50 лет не выйдет из кризиса, это неприемлемо. Если так считаешь, то иди работай в другом месте.” [When certain members of government say that Russia won’t exit the crisis for 50 years, this is unacceptable. If you consider this, you’d better go work somewhere else.]

      Putin defended him at the time: “Кудрин находится в стрессе, на него все давят.” [Kudrin is under a lot of stress, everyone’s pressuring him]

      DAM, in June 2009: “Из Кудрина вышел бы прекрасный руководитель «правой» партии, и зря он отказывается. Я считаю, что это было бы для страны неплохо.” [Kudrin would make a fine leader for a “right” party, and it’s a pity he refuses. I think that it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the country.]

      So I basically agree with you Alex. On top of all this, I think Kudrin looked genuinely hurt and resentful when he was getting bitch-slapped by DAM. I do think that he desired the PM-ship, and who knows, he might have gotten it eventually. But now it probably isn’t going to happen.

      • Did you notice that DAM is _reading_ his criticism to Kudrin? You can even see him scrolling down his ipad screen at 1.15. For someone “lashing out” he’s pretty organized. I don’t know but it would seem to me that you can say these things directly without glancing constantly to a script, the idea of him writing them down first on his ipad is even funny.

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Thanks for this Anatoly. Just two further short points:

          1. Given the supposed quarrel between Medvedev and Kudrin is in part about higher social spending and given Medvedev’s comments about Kudrin joining/leading a right wing party, doesn’t Kudrin’s departure represent more evidence of a left turn?

          2. When I last looked today both Russian stock markets had risen and the rouble had strengthened. This was surely more due to general economic news than to Russian political developments (Putin’s candidacy and Kudrin’s dismissal/resignation) but it rather suggests that the impact of those developments on the investment community both internationally and in Russia is so slight that it can be largely discounted.

          Lastly, here is my penny’s worth on my own blog not about Putin’s candidacy but about the British media’s reaction to it.

          http://mercouris.wordpress.com/2011/09/27/british-media-response-to-putins-bid-for-re-election/

        • Ha! Thanks, @sam, once again you are invaluable in helping us decode these clips. I didn’t even notice that DAM was reading his speech from his ipad, but now you point it out it is so obvious. Not surprising that a hip modern leader like Iphone-chik would fire a guy via ipad. Kudrin should consider himself lucky that DAM didn’t just use both thumbs to TEXT his dismissal.

          • Alexander Mercouris says:

            Medvedev is a lawyer and as a lawyer he will have been careful to write out in advance what he was going to say especially over such a sensitive and important matter. However the clear impression I got was that Kudrin did not expect such a public dressing down or anticipate being asked for his resignation in quite such a public way.

            I should say that some of the commentary I have read about this incident (not on this blog) has bordered on the ridiculous. Whether Kudrin genuinely wanted to resign or not neither Medvedev or Putin could have kept him after what he said in Washington. To have done so would not just have been weak but would have signalled that Kudrin was unsackable and had a general licence to say or do whatever he wanted, in which case the authority not just of Medvedev but arguably of Putin as well would have collapsed. Even if Kudrin had retracted his comments it is impossible to see how he could have stayed on since that would have meant that he would have been required publicly to support a budgetary and financial policy after publicly saying it was wrong.

            I just want to make a few last comments about this affair:

            1. It says a great deal about commentary about Russia that it is Kudrin rather than Putin who is given credit for imposing financial discipline. At the time he was appointed Finance Minister Kudrin was an unknown economist from St. Petersburg who had obviously been given the job because of his connection to Putin with whom he had worked in Sobchak’s administration. The strong fiscal policies that were followed in the 2000s and the policy of using oil revenues first and foremost to pay off debt and to build up reserves were Putin’s. I can even remember reading an article in the Economist that actually criticised Putin for making a priority of debt repayment.

            2. The reason budgetary spending in Russia has increased since 2008 is not because of reckless spending by the government but because like every other government Russia’s government was obliged to increase spending during the financial crisis to keep the financial system solvent and to support demand. In this it succeeded quite well and because of its extremely strong fiscal position and its position to call on its reserves it came out of the crisis in a much better fiscal position than pretty much any government in the developed world. Having said this the extra spending has caused something of a budgetary overhang and the need to deal with this together with a desire to keep inflation down explains the 4% growth target over the next three years.

            3. In other words the fact that the budget balances at a higher oil price than before the crisis is a consequence of actions that had to be taken during the crisis whilst the planned lower growth rate is a consequence of the budgetary rebalancing and monetary retrenchment that needs to happen following the crisis. Russia could doubtless increase its growth rate above 4% during this period but to do so it would have to increase spending and lower interest rates more than it is prepared to do.

            4. As Finance Minister it is perhaps understandable that Kudrin wanted fiscal consolidation to happen further and faster then is actually happening. However these things have to be finely judged and in deciding economic policies one always has to make trade offs. For example there is surely a case for saying that if Kudrin’s proposals were followed planned economic growth would be even lower. I ought to add that if oil prices really were to collapse to $60 a barrel or whatever then the budgetary hole this would cause would surely be much greater than any gains from any further retrenchment of the sort that Kudrin is suggesting.

            5. Lastly, on the subject of capital outflow, which gets a totally disproportionate amount of attention, that has up to now been caused almost entirely by the combination of higher oil prices and lower growth caused by the government’s tight fiscal and monetary policies. As money has flowed into Russia on the back of high oil prices it has to go somewhere. Given the lower growth rate the domestic economy cannot absorb all of it so some of it tends to get invested abroad. In other words capital outflow is not a symptom of crisis or of failure but a consequence of perfectly rational government policies.

            I accept that if there is another wave of the financial crisis (as now seems certain) Russia’s government will have to take further steps and what I have written will become out of date. My purpose in making these points is because again discussions about the Russian economy and Russian economic policy are so confused and tend to be so ideological. For example endless talk about “improving the investment climate” or “of the need for modernisation” is never accompanied by practical suggestions of what Russia is supposed to do in order to improve its investment climate or achieve “modernisation” (the latter being an especially meaningless concept for a country like Russia). Instead one gets nebulous statements about “dealing with corruption” or “establishing the rule of law” or “opening up the political system” with no real explanation of what exactly Russia is supposed to do in order to achieve any of these things which it is not doing already.

            • At the time he was appointed Finance Minister Kudrin was an unknown economist from St. Petersburg…

              You have totally, absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                According to his biography Kudrin was an academic until 1990. He then worked in various capacities for Sobchak in St. Petersburg until 1996. Then after about a year working in the Presidential Administration he transferred to the Finance Ministry in 1997 until Putin appointed him Finance Minister in 2000.

              • Let’s try multiple choice. At the time he was appointed Finance Minister Kudrin was

                a) an unknown economist from St. Petersburg.

                b) a First Deputy Finance Minister.

                Just pick a) or b). Thank you in advance.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                Dear Peter,
                I’m going to cheat on your multiple choice! I am going to choose both a) and b). Why does the one exclude the other? Siluanov the new Acting Finance Minister was also Deputy Finance Minister but until he’s appointment I cheerfully admit I’d never heard of him! Regards!

              • … I’d never heard of him!

                Now honest, when did you first hear of Putin?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                In 1998 at the time of a grotesque press conference staged by Berezovsky who was trying to prove that the FSB of which Putin was then in charge was out to kill him.

              • Okay, and when was the next time?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                In 1999 during the Skuratov affair when he attended a press conference with Stepashin.

              • And next?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                I’ve no idea. It’s a long time ago. Could have been when Yeltsin appointed him Prime Minister in place of Stepashin.

              • So, given how little we know about the circumstances of Putin’s own sudden promotion, how do we know whether or not he was initially a mere pawn in somebody else’s power game? More specifically, how do you know if he had any real say in selecting the 2000 government and shaping its economic strategy?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                I think we can be pretty sure. Putin made an immediate impact as Prime Minister and quickly asserted himself after he became President. There was no obvious rival to him after he was formally elected President. Theories that he was a puppet of Berezovsky’s were quickly proved to be untrue. Putin and Kudrin had known and worked closely with each for a long time ever since they both worked for Sobchak and it is logical to think that Kudrin became Finance Minister because he was known to Putin and because Putin wanted him in the job. Thereafter it was quite obvious that it was Putin who was the country’s leader and that Kudrin’s role, however important, was that of a subordinate.

              • I’ve asked two fairly specific questions, why can’t you just answer them?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                Dear Peter,

                I was under the impression I had answered them. Sorry if I was unclear!

                Anyway

                (1) How or why Putin became Prime Minister in 1999 (which is what I take to be the meaning of your question of how he came to power) is to my mind beside the point. The facts show that he quickly asserted himself after he became first Prime Minister and then Acting President and then President and by the time he appointed Kudrin to his post there was no doubt that he was the leader of the country and was making the important decisions;

                (2) The facts show that Putin was never anyone’s puppet or pawn even if there were some people who might have thought he was;

                (3) Given that this is so and given that we know that Putin and Kudrin had known each other and worked together for a long time there is no reason to doubt that it was Putin and no one else who appointed Kudrin to his post, which was anyway his constitutional prerogative and based on the known facts we can confidently say that we know this and that we know that thereafter it was Putin who was the chief and who made the key decisions and that it was Kudrin who was his subordinate.

                All that I have said I say with confidence based on the known facts. All else seems to me complete speculation, which in the light of the known facts is unwarranted.

              • “The facts show” is not an answer. What exactly facts show that the early Putin wasn’t a mere pawn in somebody else’s power game? What exactly facts show that he had much say in selecting the 2000 government and shaping its economic strategy?

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                Dear Peter,

                It’s obvious I am never going to persuade you. For what it’s worth short of writing a book I feel I have identified fairly clearly what the known facts are. If you know facts that tell a different story then please share them with me. I would say that it does seem to me that you are in danger of the logical fallacy of thinking that because something cannot be disproved it may be or even must be true. Having said this I think in this case the facts do show pretty conclusively that Putin was no one’s puppet or pawn but was the maker of his own decisions.

              • It’s obvious I am never going to persuade you…

                No, not until you stop talking about facts and actually produce some. One or two will do.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                OK, let me make one last effort!

                It seems to me that if you want to talk about Putin’s position at the time when Kudrin was appointed then the persons or groups of persons who could have been his puppet masters come down to just three:

                (1) Boris Yeltsin and his family;
                (2) Boris Berezovsky and the oligarchs; and
                (3) General Kvashin, the General Staff and the other security agencies.

                Taking each one in turn:

                (1) Yeltsin
                At the time when Kudrin was appointed Yeltsin had retired and was no longer President. He was also in some disgrace. Given that Yeltsin had no official position I cannot possibly see how he could have forced Putin to appoint Kudrin or indeed anyone at all to any post or how he would have been in any position to control Putin’s actions. In addition, had he wanted to appoint Kudrin Finance Minister why could he not have done it whilst he was President?

                (2) Berezovsky
                Berezovsky did support Putin during the election campaigns of 1999 and 2000 though for reasons I do not have time or space to go into here I think claims about the alleged friendship between the two men have been greatly exaggerated. What is indisputable is that as soon as Putin was elected President the two men almost immediately fell out and became bitter enemies. Within months Berezovsky had to flee abroad, which would surely not have been the case if he had been the master and Putin the puppet. No one so far as I know has ever suggested that Kudrin was appointed to his post at Berezovsky’s behest and if this was the case (which there is no reason to believe) Kudrin clearly went over to Putin’s camp almost immediately when Putin and Berezovsky fell out. Kudrin continued to work for and with Putin as his Finance Minister even as Putin turned against other oligarchs such as Khodorkovsky, which to my mind conclusively shows that his loyalty was to Putin and not to the oligarchs and that he saw himself as Putin’s subordinate and was not accountable to the oligarchs.

                (3) General Kvashin etc
                I have always thought that the military and the security agencies played a much bigger role behind the scenes in the political crisis of 1998/1999 than is generally understood and there is no doubt that Putin had to some extent to accommodate their wishes and experienced some initial problems imposing his authority on them. However there is no evidence that the military ever took or sought to take a direct role in deciding economic policy and there is nothing to suggest that Kudrin was the military’s choice as Finance Minister. In any event Putin undoubtedly did eventually assert his authority over the military so that by 2001 he was able to enforce decisions (such as allowing the US to use bases in Central Asia) with which the military were obviously unhappy. Given that this so there is again no reason to think that Putin was ever the military’s puppet and in the final analysis once he became President short of a military coup (something that has never happened in Russia) it is impossible to see what the military could have done to bend him to their will or to force him to do something he did not want to do.

                That seems to me to exhaust the pool of potential puppet masters. Possibly you can think of others but I cannot.

  19. You’re an idiot! Why don’t you go and live in Russia and see how you like rotting in Putin’s Lada Land? By the way, how do you explain the Sergei Magnitsky arrest, torture, murder, and cover-up, and your hero Putin’s unwillingness to get behind a proper investigation?

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      Dear Kazann,

      Is this comment addressed to me? If so then whilst I would not use an expression like hero to describe Putin, I do think he is a very intelligent and successful political leader who has made a genuine contribution to his country. I recognise the many problems that still exist but the improvement in the living conditions of Russia’s people since he became Russia’s leader is surely indisputable.

      On the subject of the Magnitsky case (which I notice appears to be taking over from the Khodorkovsky/Yukos affair as the centre of the west’s attention following the two recent Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights), I set out my views about it in the following post

      http://mercouris.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/meddling-in-russian-court-cases-part-iii-magnitsky/

      Having just read another post on the Magnitsky affair by Mark Chapman it seems that I got one thing wrong. As it turns out it seems that Magnitsky almost certainly was not a lawyer even though Browder endlessly claims he was. That does not of course affect any of the other comments about the case in my post though it does cast further doubt on Browder’s credibility.

      • If I understand Mark’s point correctly, whether or not Magnitsky was a laywer is quite relevant to the legal issue of whether or not there was “lawyer-client” privilege involved in the sharing of information. Otherwise it would be a trivial factual error on Browder’s part. Did I get that right, Mark?
        P.S. Is @kazan LaRussophobe in disguise?

        • Alexander Mercouris says:

          Dear Yalensis,
          I entirely accept Mark’s point about Magnitsky and professional privilege. Thank you for drawing it to my attention Also I believe that Browder is not American as I said in my post but British.

        • Yes, you got that right. Testimony between Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and anyone with whom he was involved in a business relationship would have to be considered under attorney-client privilege, while the same relationships with Accountant Sergei Magnitsky would not. But it’d make no real difference in Russia: they’d certainly know if he passed the bar exam or not, or even sat for it (which it appears he did not). It would only affect western perception – look at the filthy Russians, violating attorney-client privilege!!! I wouldn’t have thought it worth the trouble of deception, but maybe no deception is too small a detail for Browder.

          • Alexander Mercouris says:

            Dear Mark, You are totally right about all of this and as someone who worked as a lawyer for thirty years I was an idiot to overlook it.

            • Alexander Mercouris says:

              Dear Mark,
              I have now read the two posts by yourself and Kovane on Kremlin Stooge about the Magnitsky Affair. They are by far the best accounts and analysis of this scandal that I have read. I strongly advise anyone who wants to get a handle on this complex affair to read them.

              • Thanks very much, Mr. Mercouris, you’re very kind. I’d love to take credit for spotting that legal-shield anomaly, but the heavy lifting on that issue was done by A. Pesant at Twelfth Bough. She either figured it out herself or picked up on it in her research. My sole contribution to that line of inquiry was to point out that Russian courts would not simply accept Browder’s word that Magnitsky was a lawyer if he held no such qualification. Therefore it would be of no use to inhibit his questioning by Russian authorities.

                As regards your earlier exchange with Peter – when an unknown entity sets up an individual for high public office, there’s always a motive. That entity intends to later emerge and take the power from the puppet they put in place, for example. No more powerful figure than Putin has ever emerged in Russian politics, so who would be likely to be pulling Putin’s strings? Also, such a behind-the-scenes manipulator could be a corporation, which empowered Putin in order to use him to enrich itself. The most likely candidate in that scenario would be GAZPROM, in which Putin is reputed to hold a significant “secret, unwritten” block of options. Were that the case, though, he likely would not force GAZPROM to open up its European pipelines to competitors such as RosNeft and Surgutneftegaz. So there’s no real proof that Putin is someone’s puppet – how likely would such proof be to be lying around for a Google search to turn up – but the sequence of events suggests Putin is not operating under someone else’s control.

              • Alexander Mercouris says:

                Dear Mark,

                I wasn’t just referring to the professional privilege point, important though that is, but to the whole coverage of the Magnitsky affair in those two posts. By the way am I right in thinking that you wrote both posts but that Kovane provided the links? Anyway the posts are an outstanding account of an incredibly tangled affair, by far the best I have read anywhere and the only ones that explain it clearly. They must have taken hours of work.

                I must admit that I never gave thought to Gazprom but I agree with all your points.

      • About the title – it’s from this song.

        [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wC0y_lbwCgY?rel=0&w=640&h=360

        I was originally going to title it The Return of the King, but unfortunately Julia Ioffe stole it from me! ;)

        • Why is it that when Beowulf’s girlfriend plays the lyre, her plucking of the strings doesn’t match with the actual notes played? I find that quite odd…

    • So kazandemocrat, how do you feel about the ECHR judgments that your great hero Khodorkovsky’s prosecution wasn’t politically motivated and that Yukos did engage in massive tax fraud?

      So much for the liberals toting him as a Russia’s foremost “prisoner of consciousness.” А так дысал, так дысал…

      PS. No need to call me an idiot by email too, I already know what you think of me and by doing so in private format you rob my readers of extra entertainment. Plus, it’s a bit creepy.

  20. In this clip, the serf-like Russian people beg their leader to return to Moscow, and he humbly agrees.

  21. More like the inseparable “Blues Brothers” Putin and Medvedev…they’re putting the Eurasian band back together again…they’re on a mission from god:

  22. The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who actually lives/works in Russia and has close contacts with government and business elites. This blog goes between some occasionally intelligent analysis and absolutely god-awful nonsense (see basically any blog here on corruption – I have worked in Russia and CIS for almost 12 years, and anyone who believes what this blogger writes on corruption in Russia is a fool) – but your prediction that Putin would not return shows how little you actually know about the country you spend so much time blogging about.

    Have you actually spend much time in Russia?

    Now I checked- apparently this blog is written by someone in California – I guess I’ll just stop wasting my time reading it now.

    Sincerely,
    William from Kyiv/Moscow

    • That’s a very Russian-sounding name you have there, William. Speak Russian, do you? Fluently, like a native, so Russians can’t tell you’re not one of them yourself? You might be quite surprised at the differences in how corruption is visited upon locals as opposed to foreigners who are perceived to have deep pockets and short memories.

      Anatoly might live in California, but he is a native Russian who has not always lived there. I’m sure it’s at least a match for almost 12 years of a foreigner living in Russia who thinks he knows everything. See you.

  23. Joke floating around Russian internet:

    – Дмитрий Анатольевич, Вы будете вторым из самых выдающихся президентов России…
    – ну а Вы, Владимир Владимирович – конечно первый!!!
    – нет, Дмитрий Анатольевич, первый – это Ельцин… именно он первым попросил стать МЕНЯ президентом России… ну а Вы вторым…

  24. “By the way am I right in thinking that you wrote both posts but that Kovane provided the links?”

    Nope. I wrote the more recent of the two, with help as stated from the blogs “Suspicious Deaths” and “Twelfth Bough” (they didn’t write any of the post, but I took some great source material from them). I wrote the lead-in (first couple of paragraphs) to the older one as I customarily do, to introduce kovane’s work, but he wrote the entire body of work otherwise, including references. Kovane lives in Moscow, and has that local ear to the ground that I can’t provide. For someone who speaks English as a second language, he’s got it all going on, hasn’t he?

    • Alexander Mercouris says:

      He certainly has. As I said they are outstanding posts.

      • Alexander: I wanted to congratulate you on surviving your interrogation at the hands of our favorite Russian troll, “peter”. In his former life, “peter” played the role of the abusive husband in the Julia Roberts film, “Sleeping with the Enemy”. This lovable troll perfected his control-and-interrogate techniques in such scenes as this:
        Peter: “Julia, do you remember what I told you about putting the tins back in the cupboard?”
        Julia (fearfully): “Yes, I think I remember….”
        Peter (patiently): “Tell me what each tin has glued onto it.”
        Julia: “Er… a label?”
        Peter: “Correct. And when the tins are put back in the cupboard, which way are the labels supposed to be facing?”
        Julia (increasingly hysterical): “I don’t remember!”
        Peter (slapping her): “Facing the front, bitch! I’ve told you a hundred times: The tins should be lined up in a row, with all the labels facing the front!”
        Julia (babbling): “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, honey, please don’t hit me again.”
        Peter (controlling his anger): “Don’t let it ever happen again… (Brightly): Now, what’s for supper, sweatheart?”

        • Yeah, Peter never has anything substantive to contribute. You must supply all facts for both sides in a discussion. You never learn anything from the snide squit.

        • sweatheart?

          • Arggggg! ruined my own joke with a bad spelling. Sorry about that, SWEETHEART!
            On the brighter side, I have found in the past that wife-beating troll “peter” responds well to GALSTUK-therapy, that is to say, images of his hero Saakshvili eating his tie. This seems to shut him up and make him go away, at least for a while. Sorry I have to trot this one out again, it’s an oldie but a goodie:

            • Alexander Mercouris says:

              Dear Yalensis,
              Thank you for your very kind comments. I enjoyed being “interrogated” by Peter. I was a lawyer for thirty years and for twelve years was a lawyer in the High Court in London where I was the chief adviser and examiner on the advice desk, so “interrogations” are something I should know about.

              • Very good! In that case, you are uniquely qualified to handle this slippery eel, I mean troll!
                :)