The Ironic Double Gap in America’s Analysis of Russia
I’ve never had any difficulty analyzing what Russia was going to do. The response to Saakashvili’s assault on South Ossetia seemed rather obvious, as did the following stabilization of the Caucasian Region, which led to a major shift in Russia’s foreign policy to be more cautious when dealing with the United States. It was the lies told by the Western Press about the Ossetian War that led to the demise of America’s Soft Power in Russia. And to think that sanctions could restore said Soft Power? That plan certainly paralyzed Russia bureacracy for a few minutes, because the bureaurocrats were laughing their asses off. Thus far the only success of the sanctions has been the rebirth of Stolypin’s agricultural reforms, and somehow I doubt that was the intention of the US/EU sanctions.
Why is Western Analysis of Russia so incorrect? Is it Putin’s fault? Hardly, since China, India, Israel, and even Pakistan, have no issues predicting Russia’s foreign policy. And that’s just amongst the nuclear, or allegedly nuclear states. Why is Western Analysis of Russia so wrong? And it’s not just limited to Russia. China’s tacit recognition of Crimea was also completely missed. The reason is the Ironic Double Gap. Let me explain:
Mind the First Gap
The First Gap is between fictional analysis of Russia, which exists in a universe where Russia’s the de facto bad guy, even when Russia’s providing food to starving kids, and reality. It’s the gap between analysis done by the Masha Gessens of the World, and those done by the Mark Adomanises of the World. This gap is clearly evident, especially when talking about factual issues, like demography.
Case in point: Adomanis’ response to Gessen’s response to Adomanis’ criticism of Gessen’s book. Let’s focus on Gessen’s response for now: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/sep/08/russias-dying-postscript/
“In essence, he is taking issue with a single phrase in my article: ‘In this study, published in 2010, Eberstadt accurately predicts that in the coming years the depopulation trend may be moderated but argues that it will not be reversed.’”
Masha, Masha, Masha, what are we, actual analysts, going to do with you? That phrase is indeed incorrect. Russian demography has been reversed. There are a plethora of sources that are available for this, all within reach of a 30 second Google search, so you really shouldn’t be defending that. It’s factually wrong. For instance, here’s a coverage of analysis based on World Bank numbers: http://thediplomat.com/2014/05/actually-russias-population-isnt-shrinking/
Just in case Gessen is in doubt, the title states: “Actually, Russia’s Population Isn’t Shrinking,” meaning that the prediction that Russia’s population is shrinking, would be incorrect. A population cannot shrink and not shrink at the same time. One could also, quite easily, peruse the Russian demographic yearly data since 2005, once Putin’s politicies were fully implemented. In 2005 the population declined by 847 thousand. In 2006 the decline was at 687 thousand. 2007 – 470 thousand. 2008 – 362 thousand. 2009 – 259 thousand. 2010 – 240 thousand. 2011 – 129 thousand. 2012 it was just at 4 thousand and 2013 should an actual growth of 24 thousand. That’s a reversal due to constant improvement.
But Gessen is not going to be stopped by such trifles as facts. She proceeds to make another factually incorrect claim: “we know that even this unconvincing moderation in the depopulation trend cannot hold, for one simple reason: the Russian demographic picture still reflects the aftereffects of WWII. Very few babies were born during and right after the war, and even fewer survived.”
Yes, surviving the Great Patriotic War, when Nazis were out to slaughter 90 percent of Slavs and Jews, was a complex feat for a baby. But in 1944, the Red Army heroically chased Nazis away, giving the babies a chance to survive. So let’s look at the statistics, starting from 1949, so that we have a five year recovery and reconstruction period. In 1949, the population increased by 1.9 million. During that decade, the population increased by roughly 1.8 million per year. The demographic picture began to change in the mid 1960s, but even then, the change was not sudden, but rather gradual, much like the one that we’re seeing due to the patterns of urbanization.
The change was a result of decreasing fertility rates. In 1954, the fertility rate stood at 3, whereas in 1964 it was at 2.2. In 1968 the fertility rate dipped below 2, as a result of urbanization. Thus urbanization is the key culprit of the population decline, since it reduced the fertility rate. This is certainly a problem for Gessen’s “analysis”, because the fertility rate has been increased every year that Putin was/is in office, irrespective of whether he’s president or prime minister with a tandem. In 1999, the fertility rate was 1.2. Now it’s 1.7.
Finally, Masha notes: “I love the irony: if you listen to Putin’s useful idiot, you might think there is no demographic crisis in Russia.” Masha, I’m going to save this one, thank you for saying that.
Mind the Second Gap
The Second Gap is between analysis done by the Mark Adomanises of the World and unbiased analysis, which fails to occur due to the hidden bias of the Adomanises against Putin, because they’re forced to, unnecessarily, denounce Putin, in order to fend off the Gessens of the World. When you unnecessarily denounce someone, time and time again, you begin to build a subconscious bias against that person, one that eventually creeps into your research.
For example, in article about demography, http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2014/11/03/russias-demography-continues-to-improve/, Adomanis writes:
“Russia is desperately short of good news at the moment. Inflation is substantially above target, the economy is stuck in neutral, the price of oil has dropped sharply (likely throwing the Russian budget into deficit), and the ruble has been probing new lows against both the US Dollar and Euro on a daily basis. The opposition has been scattered to the wind, and barely a week passes without the authorities concocting some kind of terrible plan (the latest: banning lots of school textbooks). Even among analysts that are usually a bit more optimistic about Russia, it is impossible to miss a generalized sense of doom and despair.”
Adomanis is writing about demography, so what does the banning of school textbooks have to do with demography? Not very much, but because of the pressure exerted by Gessen and her ilk, who call Adomanis “Putin’s Useful Idiot”, he has to take an anti-Putin stance. Thus, even the very best of Western analysts have a hefty anti-Putin bias, which prevents them from performing unbiased analysis of Russia. Case in point, when Gessen states that “Adomanis claims that President Vladimir Putin’s policies have allowed Russia to recover from its demographic crisis” Adomanis responds with “I made no such claim”. For crying outloud, you guys are supposed to be top notch analysts; instead you’re playing the “avoid praising Putin” game. Adomanis continues: http://www.forbes.com/sites/markadomanis/2014/09/09/russian-demography-and-useful-idiocy/
“The only time I even mentioned Putin in my original piece was when I said that “Regardless of what you think of” him, you shouldn’t pretend that recent demographic improvements haven’t taken place. In reality Putin deserves very little credit for the recent health improvements because these improvements are not primarily the result of changes in government policy but of a general improvement in popular living standards.”
Wait what? The improvements in demography aren’t primarily the results of government policies? So mothers don’t opt to have more kids because now they can afford them? The recent healthcare improvements were accomplished without massive, natural resource based, government funding? Those factual claims are simply incorrect. By funneling the profits of Russia’s Natural Resources away from the coffers of the Oligarchs, like Khodorkovsky, and into government coffers, specifically to budgetary coffers that helped to improve services in healthcare, education, sports, and welfare, Putin’s Administration enabled Russia’s demography to explode.
Putin’s Useful Idiots
Thus by doing horrendously fictional analysis and dragging actual analysts, such as Adomanis, into the false analysis pit, the Gessens are performing a golden service for the Putin Administration: they’re being Putin’s useful idiots. Oh, the irony! They were the ones who created the Double Gap described above. As a result, the West is acting blindly when responding to Russia. By dulling the analytical reconnaisance tools of the West, the Gessens are being quite useful to the Putin Administration, while acting like idiots. Or to quote Masha Gessen: “I love the irony: if you listen to Putin’s useful idiot…” Yes Masha, listening to Putin’s useful idiot certainly makes me love the irony.
Since you guys love my writing about the Ossetian War, let me use that as an example of how Putin’s Useful Idiots, (the Gessens of the World,) provided an enourmous service for the Kremlin. The timeline of the war is relatively easy to reconstruct. In 2003, Saakashvili came to power with a nationalistic program of conquering Abkhazia and South Ossetia, through a Color Revolution. In 2004 he assaulted South Ossetia, but his forces failed to exploit the assualt. Between 2004 and 2008, Saakashvili began to build his armed forces, and his military expenditure as percentage of the GDP jumped from 1.4 to 9.2 percent: http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS?page=1
At this point in time, Georgia’s economy exploded, due to false stimulus and double counting. Here’s a hypothetical example: a foreign company buys land in Georgia worth $100,000 for $1,000 and commits $49,000 towards the creation of jobs. These jobs would, in turn, produce workers who were paid out of the $49,000, so their wages would be counted twice, i.e. “$49,000 in Foreign Direct Investment produced $24,500 in salary gains!” Thus, a loss of $50,000 was actually reported as a gain of $73,500. Again, these are just hypothetical numbers; if you want to read about the program, knock yourself out: http://www.tol.org/client/article/23965-georgias-great-land-giveaway-raises-unanswered-questions.html
With nationalist feelings running rampart and an economy that was about to be in trouble, Saakashvili had to act. The Olympics held in China were to provide the perfect cover, if he could quickly win the war. His problem was that he bought into the dogma of how terrible Russia’s armed forces really were, courtesy of Putin’s Useful Idiots. Felgenhauer hypothetized that it will be tough for the Russians to fight the Georgian armed forces. In reality, the Russian armed forces were ready to repeal his assault, and the Kremlin was crystal clear in the message to Saakashvili on August 5th, where it was blatantly implied that war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia would lead to war with Russia.
On August 7th, Saakashvili attacked. On August 8th, the Russians counterattacked. Within a few days the war was over, and by August 16th, a ceasefire was being implemented. The Caucasians saw the sheer might of Russia’s armed forces, and the beatdown that the Russians delivered played a major role in the region’s stabilization. In spite of this, the coverage on the Ossetian War was amazingly poor. Mark Ames details just how bad the coverage was, by focusing on a single newspaper, the New York Times and their antics: http://exiledonline.com/how-to-screw-up-a-war-story-the-new-york-times-at-work/
In that article, Ames was the first to predict the reason for the demise of America’s soft power in Russia: “It was as if the Kremlin was so excited that for once in Putin’s term, the Russians lucked into being on the good guys’ side of a major news story, and it made no sense that the “free Western media” (which the Kremlin takes much more seriously than its own cowed media) wouldn’t see the truth, that they’d do the Russian thing and twist reality into propaganda. What was so shameful and embarrassing to me, an American journalist whose own Moscow-based newspaper, The eXile, had just been driven out of existence by these same Kremlin bastards, is that Sasha was rightly frustrated. A Kremlin minder right and the Western journalists wrong? What has this world come to when the Kremlin has a better grasp of the truth than the free Western media?”
The Ossetian War was avidly followed by tens of millions of Russians. The truth was out there, the Russians knew it, and the West did not report it. Instead of reporting the truth, the Western Media tried to punish Russia for taking down one of their own, brought to power through a Color Revolution. You do not punish Russians when Russians know that we’re doing the right thing. The Russians promptly turned the tables, and started treating the Western Press like Stalinist Pravda. And that PR victory for the Kremlin, a victory handed to the Kremlin on a silver platter, led to the demise of America’s Soft Power.
The Kremlin slowly began to chip away at what little remained. First came the changing of the term limits, which were viewed as a test. The Western Press rallied and made credible attacks against it. A year earlier, they would’ve been able to produce enough soft power to prevent the change. Now, they were simply ignored. The Kremlin responded not with counterarguments, but by running the coverage of the Ossetian War, as presented by the Western Media. The unedited coverage. That’s right, the initial coverage of the Ossetian War by the Western Press was so amazingly poor, that the Kremlin did not even need to edit it, in order to make it look like Stalinist Pravda. The term limits were smoothly implemented. And the chipping continued. By the time the Western Press got its act together and started to reverse their reporting on the Ossetian War in Russia, it was too little, and it came too late.
Interestingly enough, it also led to a resurgence of the Russo-Chinese Relationship, because China was terrified by the West’s Soft Power; terrified that is, until August of 2008, when said Soft Power self destructed. The Russians had the Soft Power data that Chinese desperately wanted, and the Chinese had the Economic Power data, that the Russians desperately wanted. It does not take a Nostradamus to predict a swift exchange, which simply made the Russo-Chinese alliance possible. By 2010, the alliance was sealed.
RuNet Comes Into Force
I had a theory that the Internet would democratize the USSR, if the Soviet Union lasted until the Internet Age. That did not happen, but the Internet played a major role in Russian Society, continues to play the role to this day, and will continue to play the key role in development of Russia’s Civil Society in the future. With the Western Press discredited and the Russian Press still unable to shake off the bad PR of the Soviet days, the Russians turned to the web. Most major Russian media outlets had to adapt, and complied. Yet the result was anything but uniform. The Internet gave Russians creative freedom, and the unique Russian Culture and Russian Language enabled Zotov’s Tongue to proliferate and evolve, and neither the uneducated censors from Moscow, nor those abroad seeking to bend Russians to their whims, were able to have much impact. By the time they realized what was happening, it was already too late. A vibrant Russian Civil Society existed – RuNet.
Russian is currently the third most used internet language, and is likely to become the second most common. Even after the rise of the Asian Tigers, Russian will continue to have a top five following. When it comes to the Internet, RuNet dominates at least a twentieth of it. During the PR battles of the Ossetian War, the Russian version of Wikipedia was the first to show who the real attacker was. The rest of the World played catch up.
Forums were created, blogs were formed, and internet dominated news outlets began to emerge. Understanding that merely speaking Russian was not enough, crossovers were attempted, some of which were quite successful, including the Kremlin Stooge, which serves as a fine example of an attempt to bend RuNet’s will to “Libertard Whims”, that completely backfired. Long story short, the founder of the Kremlin Stooge, Mark Chapman, started troll-commenting on DaRussophobe’s blog, trying to use humor to show the blog for the joke that it was, similar to what Jon Stewart did with Crossfire. DaRussphobe banned him and told him to start his own blog, since, in her rather limited opinion, that would never be successful. The blog of the Kremlin Stooge is currently one of the most successful crossover blogs of RuNet. And that’s just one story, one out of many.
It’s impossible to talk about RuNet without highlighting www.lib.ru and a specific part of that – artofwar.ru. It has numerous war stories about quite a few of the military conflicts that Russia/USSR went through, and it enables Russian soldiers and officers to write and publish their war stories, free of charge, for all of us to read. This, in turn, is giving birth to a new genre of writing in Russian/Soviet History, a unique military genre with a mix of dark humor and wit that surfs the bounds of crazy, sometimes peers over the edge, but never crosses it. In RuNet – Russia has a thriving Civil Society, and that’s something that should be paid attention to by those who study Russia; instead, it is either being ignored, or others attempt to bend it to their whims. Have fun doing that with millions Russians and our allies; let me know when you fail, because you will fail.
Sadly, that’s not seen by those who are in power due to the Ironic Double Gap described above.
Russia’s Role in the MultiPolar World
Since Putin’s Useful Idiots blinded the West’s Analysis with the Unminded Double Gap, and Russia rose again, much like RuNet enabled the Rebirth of Russia’s Civil Society, the question becomes – what is going to be Russia’s role in the MultiPolar World? One can no longer exclude Russia, or RuNet, from the field of shaping the World of MultiPolarity. That’s been tried before, and it failed spectacularly. Only a compromise can prevent another Cold War that’s followed by an economic depression. To decide that, we must first assess Russia real power.
Since Real GDP, (GDP-PPP,) is a better measure of the economy than Nominal GDP, (GDP-Nominal,) we need to have a “PPP” style analysis of Russia’s power before figuring out what the role of Russia is going to be, and real power cannot be measured without taking into account the Integrative Growth principle. It’s important to measure not just the quality of life in a country, but also the improvement of the quality of life, or its deterioration. When surveyed, most Russians prefer St. Alexander Nevsky over Csar Alexander the Blessed; despite the Russians enjoying a substantially higher standard of living under the latter, it was under the former that conditions in Russia drastically improved, while they slightly improved under the latter.
Although the standard of living in Russia is not as high as it is in some of the EU member states, it is vastly improving. Despite the financial sanctions, the improvements are continuing to dominate in Russia, whereas, due to the policies of austerity and mobility within the EU, the standard of living is deteriorating. One cannot simply state that Russia has a lower standard of living than the average Western EU member state, and be done with the comparison. One has to take the improvement/deterioration of the standard of living into account, and with that comparison, Russia’s projected rise in power is not stopping any time soon.
Demographics? That’s one of the major feats of the Putin Administration, and that is going to continue to improve, as long as fertility continues to improve. Unemployment? Russia’s nearly at full employement, beating out most EU countries and the US. The creation of a civil society? RuNet is doing a vibrant job on that aspect, and as long as the Internet continues to proliferate throughout Russia, the Russian civil society will continue to grow and thrive. Trust in the government? Hasn’t been higher since actual measurements were taken. Putin’s approval rating? Extremely high. And all of this is going on in spite of the sanctions and the collapsing oil prices.
One can certainly talk about the collapse of the Ruble and of the collapsing stock market, but most Russians aren’t investing in stocks and aren’t massively affected by the Ruble’s collapse. The investment portfolio that I’m simulating for Russia is growing! The drop in the oil price has done more to hurt the Ruble than any sanctions, but that’s the result of Russia letting a single commodity dominate the currency, instead of parsing it through a basket of commodities. Russia still has massive resources and diamond reserves. Russia’s tolerance can withstand the wither of sanctions.
This means that Russia will play a leading role in the MultiPolar World. How much of a leading role? As a UNSC member, a nuclear powerhouse, a country with an active internet population, a country that has extremely high tolerance, a country that’s thriving due to rapid demographic growth – I am going to say that Russia will be tied for first. And the reason I use the word “tied”, is because in a MultiPolar World, it is irrelevant who is number one. It’s going to be a four tiered system.
The first tier will be occupied by leading nations, the BRICAS, US, some EU nations, perhaps Vietnam and Indonesia. The second tier will be occupied by nations who can exert influence on others, but aren’t Great Powers, like Australia, Canada, Iran, Israel, Czech Republic, Nigeria, etc. The third tier will be reserved for all other UN members, and the fourth will be for the unrecognized states. Thus it matters what tier you are in, but it does not matter what position you hold in your tier. That’s the World of the Future.
(Yes, there’s a second part coming, but considering how long it’s taking, I decided to get this part out first)