Russia isn’t hated by (most of) its neighbors

One of the staples of the neocon-Russophobe narrative is that Russia is alone in the world, utterly bereft of friends, left only with the likes of Nicaragua and Nauru to indulge it in its anachronistic “imperial fantasies”. Not really. Conflating the West with the world won’t change the fact that amongst the peoples of China, India, and most of the Middle East and Latin America – that is, the regions containing the bulk of the world’s population and future economic potential - Russia is actually viewed rather favorably. But what about peoples recently liberated from the oppressive, iron boots of Russian chauvinism – surely they dislike Russia? Not that simple. Some sure do – Estonians, Poles, West Ukrainians, Georgians… But plenty more don’t (Armenians, Bulgarians, East Ukrainians). It’s a complex picture of significant political and geopolitical import.

Back in November 2008, the VTsIOM polling site released some very detailed results about what peoples in the former Soviet Union think about each other. The first graph below asks people which countries they consider to be friends or allies of their country.

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Regathering of the Russian Lands

I have long noted Russia’s resurgence back into the ranks of the leading Great Powers; I predicted that the global economic crisis will not have a long-term retarding impact on the Russian economy; and within the past year I have bought into Stratfor‘s idea that the defining narrative now in play in Eurasia is Russia’s intention to reconstruct its empire / sphere of influence / call-it-what-you-will in the post-Soviet space. This “resurgence” is advancing along several major fronts: geopolitical, economic, demographic, military, and ideological. In this post I will cover recent major news on the first four.

Ukraine Returns to the Empire?

The most consequential big event is the electoral victory of Viktor Yanukovych (35%) in the first round of the Ukrainian presidential elections, followed by Yulia Tymoshenko (25%), Serhiy Tihipko (13%), Arseniy Yatsenyuk (7%), and Viktor Yushchenko (5%) – a result that I called 100% accurately. Disillusioned with the incompetence, economic decline, and “anarchic stasis” of five years of Orange rule, polls indicate three times as many Ukrainians now favor a “strong leader” over a “democratic government”, so no wonder that the liberal ideologue Yushenko, though the only major Ukrainian politician who is consistent and sincere in his views, suffered a crushing defeat as the last true representative of the Westernizing “Orange” movement. This marks a threshold in the accelerating “regathering of the Russian lands”*.

Below is an electoral map of the first-round Ukrainian presidential elections. As is always the case, the urban, Russophone / Surzhyk-speaking, Russian Orthodox Church-affiliated south and east voted for the pro-Russian Yanukovych, head of the Party of Regions, while the more bucolic, Ukrainian-speaking, Kyiv Patriarchate-affiliated / Uniate center and west favored Tymoshenko.

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Voice of the People Part 3, Cont.

This is a summary of opinion polls conducted by the Levada-Center, Russia’s Gallup, since February 2009, and continues on from the first post. Along with the original post Lovely Levada, this series constitutes a unique English-language reference for social trends under late Putinism as expressed by the Russian people themselves, rather than the limousine liberals, pro-Western ideologues, and Kremlin flunkies who claim to speak for them. Unless stated otherwise, all opinion poll data refers to 2009.

2009, Dec 28: Around 60% of Russians are against the building of a sleek 400-meter skyscraper, the Okhta Center, in central St.-Petersburg, while only 21% are for. Myself, I’m of two minds about it. Though I like skyscrapers, I don’t want to see any public money going to Gazprom ego-building.

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Perils of Water

Three interesting stories, all tied with Russia and water.

1. The explosion at the Sayano-Shushenskaya dam in Siberia. Though the official Russian version is that it was a blown transformer, the Chechen separatists / terrorists are claiming that it’s their work:

A decision was taken at the start of the year at a meeting of the council of the Mujahideen of the Emirate of the Caucasus, led by Caucasus Emir Doku Abu Usman, to activate an economic war against  Russia on its territory. To carry out these tasks, subversive groups were created and sent to a  host of Russian regions with the aim of carrying out industrial  sabotage. The priority targets laid out for them are gas pipelines, oil  pipelines, the destruction of electricity stations and high-voltage  power lines, and sabotage at factories.

In the name of Allah, through our efforts on Aug. 17 an act of sabotage, long in the making and thoroughly thought out, was carried  out at the Khakasia region’s Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro-electric power  plant, the largest in Russia. An anti-tank mine on a timer was planted in the turbine room, and its explosion caused enormous damage, greater than we anticipated. The result halted the hydro-power station completely, and caused losses to Russia worth many billions of dollars.

[...talks about their recent militant attacks in Ingushetia & threatens those who cooperate with the "apostates" with death]

Lay down your arms and return to your homes, work and earn money in the ways permitted under Sharia, and you will once again have a calm life.

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Top 50 Russophobe Myths

This is a list of common Russophobe myths about Russia and its people, and the successor to a March 2008 post on a similar theme. Please be sure to check the supporting notes at the bottom before dismissing this as neo-Soviet propaganda. Also partially available en françaisна русском thanks to Alexandre Latsa’s translation.

1

MYTH: Life has only improved for a few oligarchs, while the poor and everyone outside Moscow remain impoverished.

REALITY: During Putin’s Presidency, poverty rates more than halved and wages nearly tripled, fueling an on-going consumption boom shared across all regions and social groups.

2

MYTH: Russia is in a demographic death spiral that has gotten worse under Putin and which will soon sink its economy.

REALITY: The birth rate has increased, the death rate has fallen and mortality from murder, suicide and alcohol poisoning has plummeted. Projections of Russia’s future dependency ratios are no worse than for China or the G7.

3

MYTH: Putin abused human rights, personally murdered 200 journalists and returned Russia to its totalitarian past.

REALITY: Too bad that only 3% of Russians agree, despite having easy access to such views via the press, cable TV and the Internet. The number of journalists killed under Putin (17) is less than under Yeltsin (30), and only five of them can be definitively linked to their professional work. Elections have been mostly free and fair.

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Voice of the People (since July 2008)

Since the last time I covered Levada‘s opinion polls was a whopping half a year back, I reckon its time to make an update on what Russians are thinking since then. A comprehensive kind of post, like what I did in Lovely Levada (check it out, if you haven’t already!) and hopefully a good resource for Russia-watchers of all stripes. Russophobes will find some good material here too :). I’ll start from the most recent and presumably relevant ones, and work my way down to where we left off last July, trying to select polls that are non-repetitive and interesting. Please note that there is a Part II since the original post was too long to post.

2009, Feb 13: Two opinion polls on wellbeing and consumer expectations. The Crisis and Social Feelings has lots of different graphs of consumer confidence plummeting down towards the end of 2008, as everywhere else in the world. People are postponing consumption; preferences are shifting from the Euro to the $, but the ruble remains surprisingly strong; and worryingly, 41% think the economy will not start recovering for more than a year compared to 27% who think otherwise (my own bet is half a year to a year, as I wrote in previous posts).

The second poll is the Crisis and problems in consumer credit. It has an interesting chart of how people’s feelings about buying expensive things on loans changed from 2001 to 2009. Not surprisingly they collapsed recently, which is one of the main reasons that car sales, of instance, have fallen off a cliff. What I find more interesting is that the height of debt mania was during the mid-2000′s. Meanwhile, attitudes worsened during the past two years, when the worst excesses of Russian corporate binging on cheap foreign credit took place.

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The Corpse Stumbles On, Unaware it’s Already Dead

The ludicrous claims spouted by Saakashvili continue falling apart as soon as his febrile mind makes them, forcing even the most ardent Cold Warriors to temper their uncompromising narrative of “Russian aggression against the ‘fledgling’ Georgian democracy”. And despite the impressive achievements of Georgian infowar, after many tribulations the truth came out. OCSE monitors confirmed that Georgia fired the first shot and evidence of Georgian war crimes was uncovered by the BBC and Western human rights organizations like Amnesty and HRW*.

As such, the Western media has been forced to retract its most egregious Russophobic assertions: one needs only look at some postbellum headlines from the Western press – Georgia fired first shot (Sunday Times); OSCE failed in Georgia warnings (BBC); The Story from Inside Wartorn South Ossetia (Embassy); US Says Georgia Erred in August Attack in South Ossetia (Voice of America); OSCE chairman coy about Russia-Georgia War (IHT); Georgia Claims on Russia War Called into Question (NYT); Did Saakashvili Lie?: West Begins to Doubt Georgian Leader (Spiegel). Even that neocon redoubt, the Washington Post, allowed its bloggers to publish Georgia may have sparked war with Russia. Thus confirming the veracity of what Russian ‘state-backed propaganda’ has been getting at all along, although the MSM would commit mass seppuko before acknowledging that.

Nonetheless, we must not celebrate the New Cold War’s premature ejaculation – the damage has already been done. The narrative of revanchist Russia has been reinforced – interested thinktanks and media sources can now cite Western MSM coverage on ‘Russian aggression’ to further foster institutional Russophobia. Meanwhile, those same lying Western media outlets can now retain their reputation for objectivity in the eyes of their audiences by pointing to how they later ‘righted’ the record when ‘new’ evidence came in, no matter it came in dribbles and at a time when interest in the war had long since peaked.

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Ukraine, Georgia and Latvia, Beacons of Freedom

I am being a sarcastic, of course. Ukraine has banned broadcasting of Russian TV channels. Georgia cut access to the .ru domain and banned Russian TV channels (and Euronews!), no doubt to silence any questioning voices over their criminal aggression as opposed to the likes of Fox, CNN or the BBC, which swallowed the psychopathic Saakashvili’s lies hook, line and sinker. Finally, and most disturbingly, Latvia is now arresting those who dare question the stability of its economy on charges of ‘destabilizing the financial system’.

The Western MSM would do well to express greater interest in this instead of endlessly hectoring Russia – the whole specks of chaff and logs and eyes thing, you know. Otherwise, as in the 1930′s, the debris of capitalism could end up once again incubating incipient fascist regimes.

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Schröder, Captain (of What Should be) Obvious

In an interview in Spiegel, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder states the obvious, something that Washington and its British and east European lackies seem to have difficulty grasping.

‘Serious Mistakes by the West’

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder discusses the war in the Caucasus, the possibility of Germany serving as an intermediary in the conflict and his belief in a constructive role for Russia.

SPIEGEL: Mr. Schröder, who is at fault for the Caucasus war?

Gerhard Schröder: The hostilities undoubtedly have their historic causes, as well, and the conflict has had several historic precursors. But the moment that triggered the current armed hostilities was the Georgian invasion of South Ossetia. This should not be glossed over.

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The Other Point of View

Russia: Other Points of View, predictably enough, has had a plethora of “rich” (in the “yeah, that’s rich!” sense of the word) materials to condemn the Western’s media’s tendency to present opinion and sensationalist rhetoric as fact in the service of one point of view (the West’s, or more particularly, America’s neocon foreign policy elite). Click on the links in the headings below to read a detailed breakdown of the dirty tricks the authors use to smear Russia in its response to Georgian aggression.

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