Posts Tagged ‘Russian Federation’

The top 1 percent in Russia

October 6, 2017

I’ve posted many charts about the growing concentration of income and wealth in the United States in the hands of a tiny elite.   Here is a chart illustrating inequality in Russia.

You should take note about what this chart shows and doesn’t show.  The ruling elite in the old Soviet Union didn’t have large incomes, and they didn’t live like American millionaires and billionaires, but they did have special privileges, much like military officers compared to the rank and file or like American corporate executives with huge expense accounts.    They had special stories, special medical care, special schools for their children, etc.

Also, the chart indicates that relative equality isn’t everything.   I don’t think many Americans would have wanted to trade places with the average person in the old Soviet Union.


Is it fair to call Vladimir Putin a killer?

February 7, 2017

In a word, yes.

Vladimir Putin is clearly implicated in killings of Russian citizens.

It is true that Barack Obama also initiated a policy of killing individuals he deemed a threat to the United States, and a couple of those were American citizens.   It is true that the U.S. supports dictatorships that use death squads.  But changing the subject to the U.S.  doesn’t change the facts about Putin.

2014-03-07-PUTINIs the fact that Vladimir Putin is a killer a reason not to have diplomatic relations with Russia?  It certainly is a reason not to be naive in dealing with Putin.  It is a reason not to regard him as a friend.

But President Franklin Roosevelt formed an alliance with Joseph Stalin, one of the greatest mass killers of the 20th century, in order to defeat Nazi Germany.  President Richard Nixon flew to China to open U.S. relations with Mao Zedong, another mass killer, in order to checkmate Soviet Russia.

If working with Putin can eliminate the danger of nuclear war over Ukraine or defeat the Islamic State, that would be a good thing, not a bad thing.


Russia, the surveillance state

September 9, 2015

With unlimited warrent-less surveillance and unchecked governmental power, Vladimir Putin’s Russia is an example of what I fear the United States will become.

2014-03-07-PUTINI was reminded of this by a couple of recent articles I came across this week—two reviews of a book entitled The Red Web (which I haven’t read myself) and an interview with Edward Snowden on the occasion of him receiving a human rights award.

I’m not sure that “red” is the right adjective.  Putin is the heir of the Soviet state but not of the ideology of Communism.  I wouldn’t want to live under his government, but I see my own government becoming more Putin-like.

I don’t think the United States government has helped matters by confronting Russian power close to Russia’s borders.  This could culminate in another global Cold War, but as a pure struggle for power, minus  ideological conflict.   Both nations would suffer.  The best that could be hoped would be the good fortune to once again avoid nuclear catastrophe.


The Red Web by Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: review – Russia’s attack on Internet freedoms by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

How Putin Controls the Internet and Popular Opinion in Russia by Masha Gessen for The Intercept.

Edward Snowden attacks Russia rights curbs, would prefer to go home by Agence France-Presse via LiveMint.

Why the United States needs Saudi Arabia

September 8, 2015


This chart, which I found on Ukraine’s Euromaiden Press web site, indicates how much Russia is suffering from the world decline in oil prices.

But why are oil prices falling?  It is because Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is committed to pumping oil in large volume instead of shutting back in order to prop up the price.

What gives the Saudis so much leverage is that their production costs are low, and they can make a profit at a lower price than can Russians, Venezuelans or others.

That’s why the U.S. supports Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy, and why President Obama recently reassured King Salman that the U.S. will continue its cold war against Iran despite the agreement with Iran over sanctions and nuclear facilities inspections.

My question is whether it is in the U.S. interest to wage cold war against either Iran or Russia.  There is no moral issue here.  The Iranian and Russian regimes are bad enough, but everything bad you can truthfully say about them goes double or triple or maybe 10 times for Saudi Arabia.

Will Russia intervene militarily in the Mideast?

September 3, 2015

I read a couple of interesting posts during the past couple of days about Russia increasing its political and maybe its military presence in the Middle East.

I don’t know what to make of them, and I have no way of knowing what is on President Vladimir Putin’s mind.


Syria’s al Assad and wife in Moscow

I do know that, if I were in Putin’s place, with the USA and its NATO allies stirring up trouble in nations bordering mine, I would look for ways to stir up trouble for the USA and NATO.

If I were Putin, I would see ISIS as a threat, and look join forces with Syria, Iran and other anti-ISIS forces.

A pro-Russian, pro-Putin blogger who calls himself the Saker says that Putin has neither the desire nor the power to project Russian power any great distance from what the Russians call their “near abroad.”

The Saker pointed to the Russian Federation’s military oath, which is to defend the Fatherland.  It says nothing about invading foreign countries.

But the American military oath is to uphold, protect and defend the Constitution.  It also says nothing about invading foreign countries, and this hasn’t proved a limitation.  As the Saker remarked, U.S. foreign policy resembles the old Soviet “international duty” to intervene globally wherever necessary to defend supporters and defeat enemies.


A potential U.S.-Russia clash in the Arctic

August 14, 2015

saker-arctic-860x1024The Russian Federation has literally laid claim to the North Pole.  This is not a joke.

As the Arctic ice cap melts, Arctic oil is becoming available to drillers, and the USA, the Russian Federation, Canada, Norway and Denmark (which owns Greenland) have conflicting claims.

Unlike in the artificial crisis in Ukraine, this is a real national interest of the United States—at least until we American end our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels, which I hope will happen but don’t expect anytime soon.

A pro-Russian blogger called The Saker included this map in a post about Russian military capabilities in the Arctic, which are strong and long-standing.

I don’t think anybody in Moscow or Washington is crazy enough to start a nuclear war over Arctic oil.  But if both countries have nuclear-armed submarines in the Arctic to back up their claims, there is a danger of accidental war.

Canada is second only to Russia in the extent of its Arctic coastline, and the economic strategy of Canada’s Harper administration, like that of the Obama administration, is based on developing oil and gas resources.  I wonder whether Canada will join forces with the USA in a confrontation with Russia.

The way to avoid conflict is by means of negotiation and compromise, but that requires good will and a certain amount of trust among all concerned.


Russia Moves to Protect Her Arctic Interests by The Saker for the Unz Review.

The Battle for the Arctic by J. Hawk for SouthFront.  The view of another pro-Russian blogger.

The sinking of the Canadian Navy by Scott Gilmore for MacLean’s.  [Added later]  Canada may not have a sufficient naval force to assert its claims in the Arctic without backup from the US.

What if Russia breaks up?

August 7, 2015


The Economist had an article speculating on the possibility of the breakup of the Russian Federation.  This doesn’t seem likely to me, but I’m no expert.

The old Soviet Union was a multi-national empire which was united, in theory, by Communist ideology which, in theory, treated all persons and all cultures equally.

The present-day Russian Federation is united mainly by Russian nationalism, based on the Russian language and Russian Orthodox Church.

This may solidify the loyalty of Russians, who are the federation’s largest ethnic group, but not necessarily Chechens, Tatars and other non-Russian peoples, who are treated as second-class citizens by Russian-speakers.

The Russian government had to fight a bloody war to keep Chechnya from seceding and the potential exists for other conflicts.

Many of the non-Russian nationalities have higher birth rates than the Russians.

What would happen if Russia did break up?  The United States, China and maybe Germany, Turkey, Iran and Japan would probably try to draw the fragments into their sphere of influence—a possible source of conflict and war.

The worst case would be if Russia descended into chaos and anarchy, and some rogue government or movement got control of Russian nuclear missiles.

I don’t think The Economist is seriously predicting this.  But who knows what might happen?


What if Russia breaks up? The peril beyond Putin by The Economist.


Vladimir Putin’s Russia, an empire in decline

February 18, 2015

In contemporary Russia … … the stage is constantly changing: the country is a dictatorship in the morning, a democracy at lunch, an oligarchy by suppertime, while, backstage, oil companies are expropriated, journalists killed, billions siphoned away.

==Peter Pomerantsev.

I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interest.

==Winston Churchill.

I write a lot about foreign affairs even though I have not traveled outside the USA (except to Canada) and I don’t speak, read or write any language except English. tools for understanding are to learn the basics by reading books and magazine articles, and then to try to imagine what I would do in the place of the citizen or leader of a foreign country.

My method obviously doesn’t yield profound insights, yet it is more than some of our leaders and analysts seem to be able to do.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about Vladimir Putin and Russia, which is my way of trying to clarify what I think.  I don’t admire Putin’s method of governing or his ideology, but I have a grudging respect for him as a Machiavellian statesman and patriot.

The other day I commented on an interesting post on the Vineyard of the Saker blog about how Russians are rallying behind Putin in the face of American and European economic warfare.

Today I read an interesting article by Stephen Kotkin in Foreign Affairs which gave a counterbalancing point of view—Putin as a weak despot only tenuously in control of a ramshackle.

The methods Putin used to fix the corrupt, dysfunctional post-Soviet state have produced yet another corrupt, dysfunctional state. 

Putin himself complains publicly that only about 20 percent of his decisions get implemented, with the rest being ignored or circumvented unless he intervenes forcefully with the interest groups and functionaries concerned. 

But he cannot intervene directly with every boss, governor, and official in the country on every issue.  Many underlings invoke Putin’s name and do what they want. 

Personal systems of rule convey immense power on the ruler in select strategic areas—the secret police, control of cash flow—but they are ultimately ineffective and self-defeating.

This description reminds me of the China of Chiang Kai-shek or the 19th century Ottoman Empire.  Kotkin thinks that dysfunctional despotism is rooted in Russian culture and history.


Putin couldn’t be a Hitler if he tried

February 16, 2015

In 1938, a ruthless autocrat named Adolf Hitler claimed to be protector of the Sudetenland, a border region of Czechoslovakia, in order to protect ethnic Germans who lived there.

In 2015, a ruthless autocrat named Vladimir Putin claims to be protector of the eastern border region of Ukraine in order to protect the ethnic Russians there. Putin another Hitler?  Would his next step be to conquer all Ukraine, as Hitler conquered all Czechoslovakia?  Would Poland be next, as it was for Hitler?

I don’t believe these are Putin’s intentions.  Everything he has done so far is consistent with his stated goal, which is for the world’s great powers to accept Russia as a peer and to take Russia’s vital interests into account.

But, for the sake of argument, suppose Putin’s aim is to reconquer eastern Europe or even all of Europe.  How could he carry it out?

The old Soviet Union was unable to pacify Afghanistan, and had to retreat in ignominious defeat.  Putin’s Russian Federation was barely able to crush the rebellion in tiny Chechnya.  How could he hope to conquer a nation as large as Ukraine?

Germany in Hitler’s time had world-class science, technology and industrial power, an efficient government and possibly the best army, man-for-man, in the world.

The Russian Federation is ruled by a corrupt oligarchy.  It lacks high-technology industry.  Its economy is based on exports of natural resources, like Venezuela’s or Iran’s.  The military potential of Putin’s Russia is not comparable to Hitler’s Germany

Russians would no doubt fight valiantly to protect their homeland, if invaded, as they always have.  They have succeeded in protecting their compatriots in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, where most of the local people welcome them.   The Russian army could probably occupy Kiev as quickly as the U.S. army occupied Baghdad.

But then what?  The USA was able to quickly occupy Baghdad in 2003, but then became bogged down in a quagmire more.   A Russian conquest of Ukraine would be an even bigger quagmire.   The result would be a devastated Ukraine and a Russia that had been bled dry.

The Russian Federation has the power to destroy the USA with nuclear weapons, just as our government has the power to destroy them.  What neither country has the power to do is to defeat a determined insurgent force being armed by the other side.

Vladimir Putin is too intelligent and realistic to put Russia into such a situation situation.  I think that what he wants is a neutral and, if necessary, a neutralized Ukraine—to have enough of a foothold in that country, as in Georgia and Moldova, to prevent that country from allying itself to a hostile foreign power.

If that is his desire, I think it is completely reasonable—certainly not something for the USA to risk nuclear war over.


What does Russia want? by James Meek for the London Review of Books.

Russian science is amazing.  So why hasn’t it taken over the world?, an interview of MIT’s Loren Graham for the Boston Globe.

Has the IMF Annexed Ukraine?, an interview of Michael Hudon for the Real News Network.  Ukraine faces other worse threats than Putin.

Don’t Arm Ukraine by John J. Mearsheimer for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey).

Don’t back Russia into a desperate corner

December 22, 2014


It is a grave mistake to put President Vladimir Putin or the leader of any nation with nuclear weapons into a situation in which they think they have nothing to lose.

I wrote a post Wednesday on the danger of nuclear war with Russia.  Pepe Escobar pointed out that Russia has other means of Mutually Assured Destruction.

eruopeanbankexposuretorussia pmOne would be to default on Russia’s debts, or even suspend payment on the debts, pending the end of the current emergency.  This would threaten major banks in Western Europe that have extended credit to Russia.

Another would be to cut off gas exports to Ukraine and the countries of the European Union.

Either of these things would hurt Russia as much as it hurts Russia’s enemies.  Russia needs credit, and Russia needs foreign markets.

But if the country has been brought to the brink of collapse anyway, then its leaders have nothing left to lose by striking back.

gassuppliedbyrussia (more…)

Russia’s economic crisis and the danger of war

December 17, 2014

Russia is in an economic crisis—the result of U.S.-led sanctions, the Saudi attack on oil prices and the underlying weakness of the Russian economy.

With the collapse of the Russian ruble, Vladimir Putin has been backed into a corner with few options—all of them bad.


Click to enlarge.

My question is:  Is it a good idea to deliberately bring about a crisis in a nation with 8,000 nuclear weapons?

Only a small fraction of Russia’s nuclear arsenal would be needed to reduce American cities to rubble.   Yet the U.S. government treats Russia with less caution than it does North Korea.

I do not think that Vladimir Putin would intentionally launch a nuclear war, any more than Barack Obama would.  But I think their policies bring about a situation in which an unintentional nuclear war is highly possible.

I think President Obama is more to blame for this than President Putin.  For the United States, the stakes are geopolitical advantage.  For the Russian Federation, the stakes are the independence of the nation.

The United States command and control systems are much more lax than they were in the era of Curtis LeMay and the Strategic Air Command.  I don’t know about the Russian Federation, but it wouldn’t surprise me if things were just as bad or even worse over there.

Nuclear war was narrowly averted several times during the Cold War through good luck and cool heads both on the US and Soviet sides.  The world can’t count on being lucky forever.

And even if the worst is averted—this time—the world will never be safe until the world’s nuclear powers disarm, starting with Russia and the USA.   The current crisis has eliminated the possibility of disarmament for at least a generation.

President Putin is a tough and ruthless statesman, but a sane one.  If he is driven from power as a result of the crisis, his replacement may not be so sane.

I do not think that President Putin would throw his nation on the mercy of the US-dominated International Monetary Fund for a financial bailout.  The history of IMF bailouts shows that they involve a loss of national independence, and public sacrifice in order to pay off international creditors.

I think it far more likely that he would throw Russia on the mercy of China.  This would throw open Russia as well as Central Asia to be hinterlands of natural resources to support China’s growing industrial power.

President Putin some years back, which he was seeking recognition of Russia as a respected great power, proposed an integrated European market stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok.   That’s no longer on the table.   Now the most likely prospect is a Chinese-dominated integrated Eurasian market stretching from Beijing to Berlin.


Russia Tries Emergency Steps for Second Day to Stem Ruble Plunge by Ksenia Galouchko, Vladimir Kuznetsov and Olga Tamas for Boomberg News.

It’s Not Just Oil and Sanctions Killing Russia’s Economy: It’s Putin by James Miller for The Interpreter.

The bleakest winter by Ed Conway for Medium.  The six downward steps in a typical currency crisis.  Russia is at step four.

Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.  (via the Unz Review)

The world according to Vladimir Putin

September 8, 2014

The following is from a January, 2012, interview with Gleb Pavlovsky, a former top adviser to Vladimir Putin, about how Putin sees the world.

worldaccordingtoputinPutin is a Soviet person who did not draw lessons from the collapse of Russia.  That is to say, he did learn lessons, but very pragmatic ones.  He understood the coming of capitalism in a Soviet way.

We were all taught that capitalism is a kingdom of demagogues, behind whom stands big money, and behind that, a military machine which aspires to control the whole world.

It’s a very clear, simple picture which I think Putin had in his head—not as an official ideology, but as a form of common sense.

His thinking was that in the Soviet Union, we were idiots; we had tried to build a fair society when we should have been making money.  If we had made more money than the western capitalists, we could have just bought them up, or we could have created a weapon which they didn’t have.

[snip]  Putin’s idea is that we should be bigger and better capitalists than the capitalists, and be more consolidated as a state: there should be maximum oneness of state and business.  A two-party system like in the US?  Wonderful, we’ll have that too.

Click on New Left Review – Gleb Pavlovsky: Putin’s World Outlook to read the whole article.

The roots of Putin’s Russian nationalism

May 7, 2014
Historical Map of Russia and the USSR.  Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

Russians, like Americans, have historically had a sense of special destiny among the nations — exceptionalism, if you want to call it that.   The history and special nature of Russian nationalism is worth understanding because it is embodied in Vladimir Putin.  Like many 19th century Russians, he has a sense that Russia is not fully accepted as a member of the European family of nations, and, like them, he sees Russian destiny as a Eurasian, not just a European, nation.

Russian culture is rooted in Eastern Orthodox Christianity and its converts in “Kievan Russ” in what is now Ukraine.  The region was overwhelmed by the Mongol Golden Horde and ruled by their descendents, the Tatars.   The present-day Russian state when the rulers of Muscovy threw off the Tatar rule.  After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, some Russians started to refer to Moscow as “the Third Rome”.   Just as Constantinople became the capital of the Roman Empire after the fall of Rome itself, they said, so Moscow succeeded Constantinople.   The title Czar derives from Caesar.

Over a few centuries, Russia became the largest nation in the world in area, covering a sixth of the world’s land surface.  Its remarkable spread is shown in the historical maps above and below [1], a historical saga as remarkable as the spread of the United States from sea to shining sea during the 19th century.

Through the years, Russian thinkers have been divided among what historians call the “Slavophiles” and the “Westernizers.”  The Westernizers saw Russia as a backward nation that needed to learn from the more modern nations of western Europe.  The Slavophiles thought Russia had a special spiritual wisdom that the western Europeans never would understand.  They thought Russia needed autocratic rules, and the democracy and individual rights merely reflected human selfishness.  They also thought that the western Europeans never would accept them as equals, and that Russia’s destiny lay toward the East, not the West.   These attitudes are shared by Vladimir Putin today.

I think the Russian resentment of western European attitudes has some basis.  During World War One, Czar Nicholas II sought to be a loyal member of the alliance with Britain and France against Germany, and responded to their calls to sacrifice Russian lives in the common effort.  If he had been a less loyal member of the alliance, or if Alexander Kerensky, the head of the provisional government that took power after Nicholas abdicated, had not committed to keeping Russia in the war, the Bolshevik Revolution might not have happened — at least not in the way it did.

The same attitudes are reflected in British and American histories of the Second World War, which fail to acknowledge most of the fighting against Hitler’s Germany was done by the Red Army, which suffered most of the casualties.

Alexander Solzhenitzyn, the great 20th century Russian novelist and dissident, was a Russian nationalist.  He said that the Soviet Union was not Russian [2] and that the most oppressed people under Communist rule were the Russians themselves, because the Bolsheviks sought to wipe out Russian religion and traditions.  He advocated liberation of the Baltic and central Asian states, and the formation of a new state in which Russians were the majority — Russia proper, Belorussia, Ukraine and northern Kazakhstan.

This is the area which Vladimir Putin hopes to form into a “Eurasian Union,” an economic bloc comparable to the European Union.   Interesting, he has signed a new naturalization law which will allow anyone born in the territory of the former Soviet Union, who speaks Russian, to apply for Russian citizenship.  This could be the basis for intervention later on in these regions to protect Russian citizens.

A friend of mine, a naturalized American citizen who was educated in the old Soviet Union, watches Russian-language television on-line.  She tells me the Russians are chauvinistic, and openly contemptuous of other peoples, in a way that would not be acceptable in the USA today.   She said they regard Ukrainians as an inferior people, and us Americans as weaklings and fools, and they regard Russia as being on the march.   I don’t doubt the accuracy of what she says.

Vladimir Putin came out of the old Soviet KGB and he said the breakup of the USSR was a geopolitical catastrophe.  But it seems to me that he is not so much trying to recreate the old Soviet Union as he is the pre-1914 Russian Empire, with its traditions of autocratic government, an established religion and little tolerance for dissent.  He reportedly has a portrait of Peter the Great in his office.  He reportedly quoted Czar Alexander III as saying that Russia has only two trustworthy allies, its army and its navy. He is not a second coming of Hitler or Stalin,  but that doesn’t make him a friend of democracy or freedom.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.

Expansion of Russia Under the Czars.


The Ukraine crisis: Links & comments 3/30/14

March 30, 2014
Crimean Tatar women protest breakup of Ukraine

Crimean Tatar women protest breakup of Ukraine

Elections are scheduled in Ukraine for May 25.   I don’t know how free and fair the elections will be or whether Ukrainians will have meaningful choices.  But it matters little, because the present unelected government of Ukraine has committed the nation to an agreement with the International Monetary Fund that no elected government would ever agree to.  It is an example of Naomi Klein’s “shock doctrine” in action.

The Ukraine government will sell off national assets at bargain prices, raise gas prices and cut public services as a condition for its loans to foreign banks to be paid off.  Yet I don’t read anything meaningful about this aspect in the national press.  Here are summaries of what is going on in Ukraine that are better than anything Americans are likely to read in their local newspapers or see on their local TV news programs.

Another important aspect of the situation is the desire of certain neo-conservatives in the U.S. government to draw Ukraine into an anti-Russian alliance.   Vladimir Putin could not more tolerate the possibility of nuclear-armed American warships docking in Crimea than John F. Kennedy could tolerate Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.

Economic sanctions against Russia have a price that some countries – for example, Germany – may not be willing to pay..

That doesn’t mean that Ukrainians, including Russian speakers and ethnic Russians, necessarily want to be “rescued” by Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Dmitry Orlov gives a Russian perspective on his ClubOrlov blog.

Pepe Escobar of Asia Times has sharp commentary on the geopolitical implications of the Ukraine crisis.   Read his articles to get an idea of how U.S. policy seems to the outside world.

There are links to the latest from Ian Welsh, Pepe Escobar and Dmitry Orlov on my Blogs I Like page.