Category Archives: Russia

What happens in Russia?

There is much exciting happening in Russia these days, and it may be wise to remain more or less oriented. Here are some reading tips.

After the parliamentary elections that deprived the powerparty “United Russia”, the two-thirds majority they had, there are many who claim that there still was a lot of cheating in the election.Voting results from Chechnya showing 99% for Putin’s party is a good example of this.Finance Minister Kudrin stepped down in September after a conflict with Medvedev, and he told the Associated Press:

«Without the acknowledgment that the parliamentary election was unfair, the fairness of the presidential vote will be thrown into doubt, irrespective of how honest it might be,» 

Many believe this is a way for the protests to be reduced in scope. Alexey Navalny has become one of the leaders of this new opposition movement, and says in the same article:

“I’m convinced That the main strategy of the Kremlin in the coming months Would ask neutralizing Protests by the usual deceit and bribes,” Alexei Navalny, a corruption-fighting lawyer and popular blogs WHO Has Become a leading figure in the protest movement, said in remarks posted on historical blog.

Navalny is an interesting person. He has been known through his blog , and it was he who renamed the “United Russia” to “party of thugs and thieves,” a name that has since stuck in the minds of people in Russia. He has been interviewed by B. Akunin (Grigory Shalvovich Chkhartishvili) about what he believes and stands for politically. You can find the interview translated into English here, and the Russian original here. If you have not read any of Akunins books you have a lot to look forward to.Late eighteen hundreds crime from Russia with super detective Erast Fandorin as the main character is entertaining, exciting, and about many of the conflicts that have shaped present-day Russia. In the introduction to the interview with Navalny Akunin writes:

Aleksei Navalny is the most exciting political figure of recent times. More specifically, he is the only authentic politician in Russia today. Nevertheless, many view him differently, some admire him, and others hate him. Some are very critical, while others are perplexed. My opinion of Aleksei Navalny has evolved in a typical manner. At first, I thought he was simply wonderful, because he has this great story- A young lawyer goes out on his own, and while keeping within the law defies corruption, leaving the huge system cowering, with its tail between its legs

A huge turning point for me however, was his taking part in the “Russian March”. Is this guy a nationalist? Or an unprincipled populist? Perhaps he’s simply soft in the head? If that’s true, any increase in his popularity could be dangerous. I look at this young politician thinking that, just like Bulgakov’s Sharik, “this owl must be explained”.

I recommend that you read the whole interview, reckon that the continuation will be translated soon.

The Russia Blog writes interesting about who has been demonstrating in Moscow and other cities, and not least about why Putin and Medvedev not afraid of them:

‘…the only thing that the protesters seem to have in common is a deep loathing for all things political, including all political leaders and all political parties. This contempt is not reserved just for Putin and United Russia. It assails the very notion of politics as careful social management or, to use Max Weber’s words, as ‘the strong and slow boring of hard boards, managed with both passion and perspective.’

At least as interesting to read is The Jamestown Foundation’s article here about the same themes, but with a slightly different angle.

On the same Web site you can find this article. There, they argue that one of the reasons it was not used violence against demonstrators in Moscow is that so many in the Russian elite have their money abroad:

This evacuation of money by Putin’s elites constitutes a financial guarantee against repressions because few of the owners of mansions in London or dachas in Sardinia would want to be implicated in a forceful crackdown. The protesters have discovered this weakness that makes Putin’s regime as much quasi-authoritarian as it is pseudo-democratic, so the fear factor has all but evaporated. (…) He [Putin] counts on the fact that the list of candidates does not feature a single credible alternative, but his pyramid of power cannot stand on the crumbling personal credibility of the leader who fears making a public appearance because of the prospect of booing.

Perhaps finally a positive thing with the big flow of capital out of Russia?

But the Russian government is not only challenged by the middle class in Moscow. We often forget that Russia is not only Russian, but a home for many nationalities. The largest non-Russian group is Tartars.

The ethnic conflict in Tatarstan started in June 2011, when activists of the organization Russian Language in the Schools of Tatarstan protested against what they regard as an overly high representation of Tatar language classes in the republic’s schools. The Russian activists complained that Tatar language hours were increased at the expense of the Russian language, meaning that ethnic Russians end up learning Russian in programs designed for non-native Russian speakers, such as ethnic Tatars. http://www.jamestown.org/programs/edm/single/?tx_ttnews%5Btt_news%5D=38836&cHash=0e1a9aa3fe393aa482b5bd2ec3f83a5c

This is just one of many tensions that rides Russia and challenge the authorities there. There are great regional differences, you have language, religion and economics. But you have a demographic that creates great challenges. Some predictions say that Russia will end up with less than 100 million people about in the not so far future. One way to see this challenge is as follows:

Russia has no conscript-age young men left to recruit, Russia’s chief of the General Staff complained on Thursday. The current conscript service crisis in the Russian Armed Forces is mainly due to demographic decline, bullying and brutal treatment of conscripts. General Nikolai Makarov said only 11.7% of young men aged 18-27 were eligible for the army service but 60% of them had health problems and could not be drafted under law.

The main reason for the decline in population is high mortality and low fertility, but that is not all. There is also a big group of people who leave Russia. Earlier there has been a counterweight to this through people coming “home” from other former Soviet Republics. But most of those has already come, and there will be fewer in the future.

And this is probably a more important challenge for Russia than that they are not able to bring in more troops into the meat grinder that Russian army is:

Russian graduate students prefer just about any small, unknown laboratory in Europe over the brand-new Russian scientific complex [Skolkovo]. “A stable trend has been established: 100% of working young people who get the opportunity to work abroad leave Russia,” said one scientific analyst. “If a young researcher gets the opportunity to enter the international arena, he or she will do it.”

I do not know who will end up with power in Russia, but if you force me to bet I put my crowns on Putin. But, no matter who it is, the challenges are so great that I think we can call them problems.

Christmas protests

Today we will open our presents here in Norway,  while in Russia there will be protests against the fraudulent election earlier this month. I wish the protesters the best of luck. It would be nice if they could open up a democratic Russia when father Christmas comes this year.

I must admit I have my doubts, but this has been a year of surprises and a miracle might still be possible.

The miracle is only possible if the people of Russia takes it into their hands to make this Christmas a time of miracles.  Aleksander Navalny,  one of the most important people in the movement to make the Russian government responsible towards its people, writes on his blog (unofficial english version): Not coming is the same as giving national permission to the Party of Crooks and Thieves to continue cheating and stealing.

I hope many has the courage to attend.

image

Demonstrations on Bolotnaya Square on the 10th of December. Picture borrowed from Wikipedia.

Is it a real crisis?

I must admit that I have seen this financial crisis unfold. I have had mixed feelings. On one hand, I have not lost any sleep over giant banks and rich financiers loosing some of their clout and some of their money. Also it is good for the poor that oil prices are falling. On the other hand. Rapidly rising interest payments, lack of credit for ordinary people and the collapse of the Icelandic economy has had me worried.

The moneycrisis. Thanks to scriptingnews for sharing under Creative commons
The moneycrisis. Thanks to scriptingnews for sharing under Creative commons

Now, it seems that the lack of credit is transforming the crisis from a finacial crisis to a real economy crisis. Solid businesses lack liquidity to keep in business, and shops lack the credit to take in new goods. Now reports are coming in that this hits food as well. The BarentsObserver.com writes:

Now the chain has ruptured with banks now longer willing to offer the credits. Subsequently, the wholesalers are no longer able to buy the foodstuff from the producers and then sell it on to the supermarkets, newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda reports. Consequently, the shops are emptying.The situation has now made Russians line up in the shops and secure their necessary products. The result is an even more rapid decrease of good in the stores.

Russia certainly has the money to shore up its banking sector and get credit moving again. I’m less certain about Iceland, even though they are trying to loan a couple of billions from Russia. Reuters had a wire the other day stating that:

Iceland has food stocks for about 3 to 5 weeks, but needs quickly to restore a proper foreign exchange market so importers can get back to normal business and avoid shortages, importers said on Wednesday […]The problem for importers was uncertainty about whether they would get foreign exchange, which they now have to apply for under a rationing system begun by the central bank.

I don’t actually believe that we will see food riots or starving in either Iceland or Russia. Neither country i Zimbabwe. But this is an instructive lesson into how modern capitalism works. And it works through credit. Get Rich Slick puts it this way:

There WILL be plenty of food around but it would be a matter of the truck driver having the credit to buy the fuel for his truck to get the food from the farm to your grocer. It will be a matter of the grocer to have credit to pay the trucker for his services. It will be a matter of the fuel station to have the credit to buy fuel from big oil and so on…..

When access to mony stops, everything stops. Still the worlds production capacity is the same. When it comes to food, oil, steel, transport, fertilizer. Nothing has changes. This gives us one very clear signal. The market must not govern us. We must have democratic elected governments that regulates, oversees, produces and makes sure that a crisis in the market place do not ever spill over into a crisis that affect food, health or security. I believe, naively maybe, that the Nordic welfare state has come close to finding an equilibrium where entrepreneurship and safety coexists in a way that maximizes productivity, welfare and security. Recent crises in Norway stems from deregulation not overegulation. If we take Iceland as an example, the crisis stems from a total deregulation of the banking sector.

This crisis shows, yet again, that we need to govern the market, not be governed by it.

The Arctic is heating up

No, I’m not talking about climate change. Even though I obviously could have, the North West passage is open again this year. No, I’m talking about the international scramble to grab land (read sea bottom) in the Arctic.

The United Nations Law of the Sea gives all the countries around the Arctic bassin until 2014 to stake their claim or earlier if they ratified before 2004. This means we are in for a rush of claims. Norway has already submitted her claim, Russia, Canada and Denmark (Greenland)are ready to do so. What the US will do is uncertain. The US has not ratified the Law of the Sea treaty, while the other countries have.

There is litle doubt that some of the claims will overlap. Certainly more than one country will claim the pole. Russia surely has made her intent clear by planting a flag on the north pole.
With the ice disappearing and the US Geological services claiming that large reserves of petroleum is to be found, there is reason to believe conflict will be many and tough. Lets just hope they do not escalate. Dose.ca writes:

In the latest sign of the rising international political stakes in the Arctic, the top U.S. Coast Guard official has revealed a planned shift in American foreign policy from scientific research to “sovereignty” and “security presence” in Alaskan waters bordering Canadian and Russian

further

“The primary mission right now is the maritime boundary line with Russia – keeping foreigners from stealing Alaskan fish,” Rear Admiral. Gene Brooks, head of the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations in Alaska, told the radio network.

and

…prompted the Conservative government to promise a new year-round icebreaker for Arctic waters and a fleet of up to eight ice-reinforced patrol boats.

But we should be careful not to look at this potential conflict with old cold war glasses. The potential disputes between Canada and the US, Canada and Denmark are equal poignant as the potential conflict between all the Arctic countries and Russia.

However the Telegraph writes that:

As the polar powers have got out their maps in the last couple of years, four of them – Norway, Denmark, Canada, and the USA – have made the unpleasant discovery that the fifth – Russia – is far ahead of the game. As Russian forces consolidate their grip on her messy southern frontier in the aftermath of the war with Georgia, her diplomats, oilmen and military have been pressing their advantage in the north, a border region which is on a far vaster scale but equally confused and disputed.

Cleo Paskal, an Assistant Fellow at Chatham House and an expert on how climate change will affect borders, said: “The Russians have a big head start. Their nuclear submarines have been all over the Arctic for decades, they have 16 icebreaking ships to the Americans’ four, they have a lot of experience and a lot of the right gear.

So as all countries are beefing up their military capabilities in the Arctic, lets just hope the dispute settlement mechanisms in the Law of the Sea treaty will be robust – and enough.

Protestant ethics in Russia?

The russiablog.org had a very interesting post by Nikolai N. Petro today. He argues that the young people have a stronger weberian protestant ethic than you find in Western Europe. Wikipedia quotes Max Weber as having written:

In order that a manner of life well adapted to the peculiarities of the capitalism… could come to dominate others, it had to originate somewhere, and not in isolated individuals alone, but as a way of life common to the whole groups of man.

This fits very well with what Petro reports from Russia. He writes that:

Recently, however, young Russians have begun to display new patterns of both political and economic behavior that have led pollsters to refer to them as the “Putin Generation.” … They tend to be bolder than their parents, viewing aggressiveness as a manifestation of self-confidence and initiative. Unlike their parents and grandparents, who are appalled by the emergence of the “super rich,” they are proud that Russia has the world’s second largest number of billionaires and either hope to make the list of Russia’s richest individuals themselves or see their children on it. … A 2007 study of 17-26 year olds, conducted by the Russian Academy of Sciences, concludes by describing them as “relaxed about planning for the future. They not only talk of wanting to achieve success in various forms – they actually believe they can do it.”

I believe this is great news. While I don’t long for yet another big supercapitalist country, I do believe that Russia only can rise to the heights that she should and could reach if the people of Russia shed the lethargy of Soviet communism. My experience from living in Vladivostok (OK it is 10 years ago and a lot has changed) was that most individual responsibility for the common good had disapeard, and I believe been destroyed by soviet communism. If the new generations of Russia can work not only for themselve but also for the common good Russia can again be a force for good in the world.

Arkhangelsk, maybe the last time?

This is just to give you a short update. The Barents Observer writes that the recount in Arkhangelsk must be a falsification. They report a rusnord.ru saying that

News site Rusnord.ru has however approached the leaders of the ballot stations, all people with extensive experiences from former elections. They all underline that the original results could under no circumstances have been incorrect. As noted by Rusnord, the votes on the respective station were on May 25 counted a minimum of three times in the close presence of election observers. The people counting the votes did not have any pens or pencils available, which could have made them able to manipulate election documents.

Maybe this is not the last of this election?

Archangelsk election – once more

The mayoral election in Archangelsk is over. I must admit I was somewhat surprised that Larisa Bazanova won the election with 37,55% of the vote against the governors candidate 37,41%. Read more about the five candidates here.

Put my puzzelment was soon over. The votes are recounted and Viktor Pavlenko was declared winner. No big surprise at all. The surprise is maybe that they needed a recount? Most interesting was the fact that only 18% of the electorate bothered to vote.