The multifaceted Soviet Union

Translating from here, I make no claim to the contents of the article.

The principal reproach on the Russian President and the Russian people is becoming ever clearer and ever harsher: after the surge to the West under Gorbachev and Yeltsyn, after a quarter century of moving down the route to Europe, inconsistent as it was – one step forward, two steps back – Russia has finally turned to the Soviet roots. Thus, this is how it should be treated from now on – as a copy of the USSR; surely, a much weaker one, but no less unpleasant for that.

There is logic of its own to this final sentence. The opponent, that is, Russia, should be branded by comparing it to something extremely bad. The Third Reich comparisons, while trenchant and well in practice in the public rhetoric, still have a significant flaw. On the one hand, this polemical method is firmly reserved for the thinkers like V.I. Novodvoskaya, A.N. Illarionov, A.B. Zubkov, who are not commonly considered to be all too respectable or sane. On the other hand, presenting the Third Reich as the absolute evil can lack tact towards certain young Eastern European democracies and their heroic past. If the political mythology of the modern-day denizens of Galicia* is considered acceptable (and it is), it is far more practical not to mention the Third Reich in any capacity, while viewing Bandera and Shukhevich, canonized as they are in Ukraine, as independent heroes (glory be to them**). Meanwhile, using the USSR as a totalitarian bugbear is much better simply because no foreign friends can be offended by that.

But it’s not only about tact towards friends, important as it might be. The anti-Soviet tradition is so rich and branched out, so well-rooted in the intelligentsia subculture that there is no need to think of anything new or to invent anything. A packet of mobilization orders is already stored in any intelligentsia head, just waiting for a signal to be unsealed. And there, in what comes to crushing the Sovok***, everything is already in full order: erste Kolonne marschiert, zweite Kolonne marschiert – there’s nothing to teach here, anyone in the intelligentsia knows his maneuver already.

And since the government has stopped sparing the feelings of the intelligentsia, and in this lack of mercy has gotten to restoring the GTO and the VDNKh**** – not to mention even worse actions that bear striking resemblance to the Soviet past – why be ashamed of these anti-Soviet feelings? A-la guerre com a-la guerre, especially minding that the Soviet history had a lot of quite terrible pages, as did the Soviet day-to-day life. And that’s not limited to the heroic period from 1918 to 1953, either. The golden autumn of the Soviet Union, socialism with a human face, raises a lot of just criticism and was not at all the merry Arcadia.

Thus, the anti-Soviet ideology that presents the Soviet government as the worst of evils, and V.V. Putin as a full-fledged communist leader, which makes condemning the USSR still relevant, will be both understandable and popular among a certain social strata. It is, actually, already popular.

On the other hand, the accusations of rebuilding (or trying to rebuild) the USSR produce the counterargument: “So what’s wrong about that?” and direct apologia for the Soviet regime, with the zeal of the antisovietism matched by the zeal of the sovietism. The USSR is declared the aforementioned Arcadia, ruined and destroyed partly out of stupidity and partly out of wicked intent.

Both the pro-Soviet and the anti-Soviet side share an important flaw in their reasoning, though. First, both perceive the Soviet Union as something not differentiated through time: be it 1919, 1937, or the vegetarian times of Brezhnev, it’s all the same to them. Second, the Union is seen as something completely monolithic in essence. All of that while the criticism – or praise, if that’s what you prefer, – can be directed at the Soviet Union from at least three directions.

First, the communism itself, that is, one all-conquering teaching, forcefully directed and planned economy, unified ideology etc. Everything you can read in the books of the Marxist classics, and which has been more or less implemented by the Soviet leaders. There are different opinions on whether it was more or less, at that.

Second, it’s the eternal Russia, also known as the thousand-year slavery. That is, a certain invariant of the national being, which is a lot like dough – you can chop it with an axe all you want, it’s coming together again. The Orthodox faith and the autocratic government, be they good or bad, reappear again and again, whatever you do about it. Some basic peculiarities of the political, spiritual and economic setup persistently show through the trinkets of the ideology.

Third, power is power, and any government – be it tyrannical or the most democratic – will be a cold monster, since the baseless chaos is even worse and also short-lived. It’s well known that you can’t do much without a government. The hostility that the intelligentsia feels towards government as a concept is equally commonly known.

The trouble (and sin) of our social thought is that neither in the dark times of L.I. Brezhnev’s rule, nor in the revitalizing time of the Perestroika, nor in the even more vitalizing 90ies, nor in the returning dark of V.V. Putin czar-like rule, there has been no attempt at sorting this amalgam out and categorizing it. For instance, what of the foreign and domestic policies of Russia-USSR was a sign of communist messianism, what was simple imperialism, and what was even simpler government self-preservation instinct. Instead we have a generalized term “Sovok” (or “communism”, “bolshevism”), which presupposes the principal impossibility of sorting the amalgam out.

With this misery of philosophy it’s impossible to settle accounts with the Soviet heritage. So we haven’t settled them, and there’s no knowing when we will.

* Galicia here is the name of the Western Ukraine, not the Spanish province.
** This is a reference to the slogan the Ukrainian Nazis from the OUN guerilla movement used: “-Glory to Ukraine! –Glory to heroes!” The slogan sees wide use in modern-day Ukraine.
*** Sovok is a derogatory term for the Soviet Union in Russian. Literally means “dustpan”.
**** The GTO (Gotov k Trudu I Oborone, “Ready for Labor and Defense”) was a Soviet mass phys-ed program initially developed under Stalin to prepare school students for the Army conscription, and later vastly expanded to include all demographic segments. Cancelled with the fall of the Union, it is now being restored in a handful of Russian regions.
The VDNKh (Vystavka Dostyzheniy Narodnogo Khozyastva, Exhibit of the People’s Economy Achievements) was a Soviet exhibition area of a few hectares, with a few pavilions showcasing the latest country’s achievements, from increased harvests to nuclear reactors and spaceships. After the fall of the Union it was renamed (ironically, the subway station near it wasn’t), and it is getting back its historical name this year.

oleg_leusenko: what should Ukraine do with the Russian refugees after the fall of Russia?

Blog post written on 22 September 2013 in Russian and translated from here. I make full claims to the contents of the translation just to spite the author.

When discussing the article “The Country of Frankensteins” we touched upon the topic of possible invasion of illegal or legal migrants from the postrussian territories across the transparent Ukrainian boarder, predicted to happen at the moment of and after the dissolution of the modern Russian Federation. What to do with such an inflow of people? Are the Ukrainian powers-that-be ready for such a humanitarian challenge? A lot of commentators suggest erecting all but a “Great Chinese Wall” or, at the very least, deploying barbed wire and digging a ditch along the old Soviet border. The more categorical citizens suggest employing the future potential ostarbeiters at the mines and complex construction projects, which would require setting up refugee camps. There are also tolerantly liberal suggestions of protecting the Ukrainian demographic space. But most forum users agree that potential migrants should not be issued an Ukrainian citizenship. The very maximum that the Russian refugees can count upon is a much-coveted temporary status or possibly permanent residence, but these documents they will only receive after passing an Ukrainian language and history exam.

But there is also a sensitive matter of many Russians having relatives in Ukraine. For instance, my blogfriendess levkonoe justly pointed out her concern for the people she cares about across the border:

«What do you mean – why will they pour here? Why do refugees pour out of a country when their house has burned down, and war is going on around them? How can this be regulated? In no way… and many Russians have Ukrainian relatives. That’s who the victims of the war, noncombatants, will “pour” to. I too have family there, should I just send them away? to a mine? somehow I don’t like this solution…»

I shared my vision of the solution for this problem, which (it seemed to me) the denizen of Odessa generally agreed with:

There is a lawful practice. Putin is already introducing visas with Ukraine*. The Russian officials have hinted transparently at the fact that by 2015 the visa regime between our countries will be approved.

So here the elementary international and national law comes into play. Any foreigner crossing the border of a sovereign state has to prove his financial wealth. That’s the normal day to day practice both here, on Russia**, not to mention the States or Europe. The coming foreigner (in this case – ex-Russian) has to prove how much money he has, based on a certain sum per day, or his relative or friend can vouch for him. And then the consulate will decide the visa term for the potential migrant: a day, two days, or half a year (if by the time the Russians are allowed such luxury).

I think with such rules you won’t be all that willing to pay up, even for the relatives, still from another country as they are. They can be met warmly, taken care of and fed for a while. But surely you won’t take the burden upon yourself forever. Similarly, Ukraine is not rich enough to pay for the problems of other nations and countries.

You could argue that the refugees from the sinking Titanic could earn their own bread. Yes, they could. But in this case, too, certain rules exist, including these already in the law in Ukraine. A foreigner, first of all, must provide a health certificate (that works for Ukrainians, too), and it’s predicted that soon the ostarbeiters will have to prove the knowledge of the Ukrainian language, and it will be necessary to implement a law requiring the knowledge of the history of the Ukrainian state (similar laws already exist in Russia)***. The next certificate must verify that no citizens of the host country, that is, Ukrainians, want to take the position. And the main thing – the employer must pay a certain tax for every Russian foreigner, particularly into the employment fund.

If someone wants to pay for the elderly, the disabled, the young guests from Russia – no problems, you can have even a star from the sky if you pay for it. But the Russian children will still have to go to the Ukrainian schools and learn the Ukrainian language and history. And the elderly and the meek will have to get used to the fact that the courts, the lawyers, the police, the media etc. will with each passing year be more and more ukrainized and derussified. If that doesn’t bother them like it bothers our fifth column**** today, God help them!)

Still, the postrfians will still face problems with getting a citizenship. It’s unlikely that it will be accessible to just anyone. Even now getting an Ukrainian passport is thrice harder than the Russian citizenship. And these rules can be made stricter still.

It’s all rather simple, humane and just. Harsh you say? Not at all. That’s life.

* Putin is not planning a visa regime with Ukraine: there are more than three million Ukrainians working in Russia.
** “On” is the preposition used in the text, apparently referring to the Russian norm of using “on” with Ukraine, since the name means “the borderland”.
*** There is no such law in Russia.
**** Referring to the Russians living in Ukraine.

What is the Russian motivation for annexing Crimea?

This is becoming a rather popular question, seeing the current developments, so let me try to give a short answer.

Historical. Crimea is seen my the majority of Russians as Russian. The legal act of passing it from the RSFSR into the UkrSSR is seen as short-sighted and willful, its full consequences not understood wholly at the time – it seemed like a purely bureaucratic hierarchy thing in what was to remain a unified state. Keeping it as a part of Ukraine is also seen as negligence on Yelsin’s side: he just did not care enough to demand it back, even during the upheaval there in the middle of the nineties.

Cultural. Crimea used to be one of the two main resort areas in the Soviet Union (in addition to the Caucasus: Sochi to Abkhazia). Since the state provided vacations for workers and summer camps for children there, a lot of Russian citizens identify Crimea strongly with good memories of the past. The peninsula is also firmly in the Russian cultural context, Tolstoy having his epiphany there, the czars building their summer palace in Crimea, Prince Golitsyn producing first Russian wine there, etcetera.

Ethnic. The majority of the population of Crimea is Russian. It is arguable how much Russians have been discriminated against in Ukraine, and how dangerous the current transitional period is for them seeing how the far right Ukrainian nationalists are prominent among the current interim government, but apparently both factors were enough for the local population to act in defiance of the Kievan government, and to ask protection from Russia. Since Russian Federation’s population is 80% Russian, the idea of helping the oppressed Russians in distress is a popular one.

Military. While a new naval base in under construction in Novorossiysk for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, Sevastopol currently remains the principal naval base for that part of the Russian Navy. Anti-Russian forces coming to power in Kiev meant that the agreement leasing the base to Russia for 30 more years could easily be reconsidered, even limiting as it was (no new ships, no modernizations for the ships already stationed there, reporting any ship movements to Kiev, etcetera). Moreover, the peninsula forms an unsinkable aircraft carrier and gun battery to project military power across the Black Sea – say, Russian hypersound antiship missile batteries if placed in Sevastopol are capable of covering the area almost to the straits.

Economic. Despite Crimea (as well as much of Ukraine) being largely economically neglected in the last 23 years, it still holds economic potential. First of all, (see the cultural reasons above), it’s a resort area. While Russia is immense, much of its territory is moderate to extreme continental, and a fair share just tundra. A persistently warm vacation region can be thus quite beneficial to the national health. Furthermore, even with much of the Soviet-built industry falling apart, Crimea has a working titanium plant, a few shipbuilding wharfs working far below capacity (while the Russian ones are booked for years ahead by the Navy orders), and some hydrocarbon offshore reserves. Moreover, until this point, Russia had to pay Ukraine for passing the Kerch strait – now the situation will be reversed. Finally, the South Stream, which had to be built through the deep areas of the Black Sea to go around the Ukrainian territorial waters, can now be constructed for much less going over shallow waters around Crimea.

Russian Arms Exports: Strategies of Influence

Translating from here, I make no claim to the contents of the article.

Military cooperation of Russia and foreign countries is continuing to grow, despite the widely known reduction forecasts of the last few years. Currently, our country is steadily holding the second place of the arms exporters of the world. In 2013, the amount of exports by Rosoboronexport (Russian state arms exports company – danvolodar) reached 13.2 billion dollars. The US became the leader with 23.6 billion, and France took the third place with 6.9 billion. That was about the setup of export amounts and export rankings in 2012, too.

The standards of Russia’s military cooperation with other countries, developed in the late Soviet period and the post-Soviet times, allow us to point out several main cooperation strategies, depending on the partners in question.

Joint Ventures

The first direction of cooperation, the most laborious, but also the most politically important and stable, is aimed at selling licenses and sometimes joint development of new military equipment. Currently, this strategy is only fully implemented with India, taking the form of large contracts: for instance, on licensed production of Su-30MKI planes (140 aircraft contracted in 2000, 40 and 42 added to that number in 2007 and 2012, respectively), plus the ones bought already fully assembled. By 2013, India owned a grand total of about 170 Su-30MKI, which came from Russia or were assembled from Russian-made kits. The total cost of Su-30s shipped, including spare parts, service work, pilot training, etc, is estimated at 12-15 billion dollars.

The second cooperation project is the T-90 tank. From 2001 to 2007, Russia and India signed contracts for shipping almost 2000 T-90 tanks, for a grand total of about 6 billion dollars. Of that number, more than 1700 tanks should be assembled from Russian-made kits, and the rest delivered combat-ready. Currently, the Indian Armed Forces possess some 800 T-90 tanks, more than half of them locally assembled. The production amounts are gradually growing – production facilities of the state-owned «Heavy Vehicles Factory» (HVF) allow for producing up to 140 tanks a year.

It’s worth mentioning that licensed production from shipped kits was practiced during the Soviet times, too – for instance, India received T-72 tanks, MiG-27 fighter-bombers, and several other armament types.

Of the joint armament development ventures, two became the most well-known: the PJ-10 «Brahmos» cruise missile development (1998) and the FGFA fifth generation fighter (2007). In both projects, Russian prototypes form the foundation of the venture – the P-800 «Onix» missile and the T-50 fighter jet. At that, if by 1997 «Onix» was already in testing, the T-50 only existed as models and separate elements by the time of agreement signing. The aircraft first flew in January 2010.

The sides are currently jointly working on development of a multipurpose MTS/MTA transport plane. Naval military cooperation in also being pursued. We will just mention «Vikramaditya» aircraft carrier, transferred to the Indian Navy in November 2013 after a lengthy modernization, leasing of the project 971I nuclear submarine «Chakra», its project specially updated to match the Indian fleet requirements, a principal agreement on building one more sub of the same project reached by the end of October 2013, serial production of the project 11356 frigates, etc.

In all the cases mentioned, India and Russia are looking to further their own goals. India becomes a financial donor for Russia, its investments noticeably speeding up the work, keeping the factories afloat, and guaranteeing a market other than the internal one. Russia, on the other hand, serves as a source of high tech for India in the areas where the Indian industry is tens of years behind the leaders.

Among the countries on which Russia is trying to use this strategy of military cooperation are China, Brazil and South Korea. However, cooperation has its own peculiarities in all the three cases. China, which massively produced arms on Soviet licenses (and then «pirated» these) in 1950-1980ies, has returned to buying Russian tech for improving its military-industrial complex after the normalization of the relationship between the two countries. However, the Chinese moved from licensed copies to their own developments based on the armament shipped extremely rapidly. In a few cases, this copying was made easier by the technological help of the Russian and Ukrainian development bureaus troubled by their financial state in the 1990ies and 2000ies. That’s the story of the J-11 and J-15 fighter jets, the Y-20 transport jet, the HQ-9 anti-air missile system and a few other developments. At the same time, the achievements of the Chinese People’s Republic in copying the tech of others have not yet found continuation in its modernization and further development. So a resurgence of Chinese interest towards the new Russian tech can be predicted as a new generation of weaponry is being rolled out in Russia. The interest towards the Su-35S fighter, the most advanced development on the T-10 (Su-27) platform, is the first sign of that kind.

South Korea, in turn, is mostly interested in joint ventures with the Russian design bureaus. The KM-SAM SAM system and the «Naro-1» (KSLV) rocket were developed that way. In both cases, by the beginning of the joint ventures in the first half of the 2000ies, there were no working prototypes of the systems mentioned. The Russian side of the ventures – «Almaz-Antey» for the KM-SAM and Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center for the «Naro-1» – used the contracts to develop their own new systems – the «Vityaz» SAM and the «Angara» rocket, respectively.

In what comes to Brazil, Russia’s trying to interest it in join ventures in combat aviation and anti-air systems. If that can be accomplished successfully, a certain club of developed nations using Russian designs for their own armament research and production will form. That turn of events will massively increase the stability of the Russian defense industry in the most crucial and high-tech area.

Massive Shipments

The second approach to the military cooperation is used with a rather large number of nations that possess significant financial resources and can afford expensive armaments. That is, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Algeria, Iraq, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, and a few other nations. The cooperation with them can be characterized by high costs of the contracts signed with them: 7.5 billion dollars with Algeria, more than 5 billion dollars with Vietnam, more than 4 billion dollars with Azerbaijan. They’re buying modern military vehicles or their simplified versions (Su-30MKI(A), MKM or MK2 fighters, T-90S tanks, Mi-28 and Mi-35M copters, etc), amounting in total for no smaller sums than the megacontracts with India or, earlier, in 1990-2000ies, with China.

Perspectives of such military cooperation are often considered with a bit of doubt because of the political risks. For instance, the Arab Spring made a few experts talk on the coming end to the cooperation with the Middle East countries, while the death of Hugo Chavez called the cooperation with Venezuela into question. Those doubts proved to be exaggerated.

The 4.2 billion dollar contract with Iraq signed in autumn 2012, which included combat helicopters, SAM systems, and other armaments, became the most obvious refutation of the claims that there is no further perspective for Russian military exports in the Middle East. Shipments for that contract started in autumn 2013. Military cooperation with Libya was restored at that time, too. That country received the self-propelled anti-tank missile complexes Khrizantema (Chrysanthemum – danvolodar), which the Gaddafi government ordered. It’s obvious that the Syrian government will continue buying modern weapons from Russia, and the cooling of the Russian relationship with the US opens a path to restoring weapon shipments to Iran. It’s worth noticing that after the leadership change in Iran and against the background of continued American disagreements with Saudi Arabia, the US can react to the possible restoration of the Russian military cooperation with Iran much less violently than 5 or 7 years ago.

Little by Little, a Lot

Finally, the third strategy of Russian military cooperation with other nations concerns the third world countries. That is, poor or moderately developed states in Africa, Latin America and South-Eastern Asia. The contracts with those countries are usually one-time affairs with a relatively low cost – from several millions to several hundred millions of dollars.

However, large profits can be made here, too: for instance, a billion-dollar contract was signed with Angola in October 2013. The shipment included spares for the Soviet-produced weaponry, personal firearms, ammunition, tanks, artillery systems, and multi-purpose Mi-17 copters. Additionally, the countries negotiated an ammunition plant to be constructed in Angola. The agreement also included shipping 18 repaired and rearmed Su-30K fighters, which used to belong to the Indian Airforce. The Su-30Ks were shipped to India under the 1996 contract. That contract was actually for Su-30MKI fighters, but in 1997-1998 both sides agreed to replace the planes with the simpler Su-30Ks, later to be replaced by the more advanced Su-30MKI. Later, Russia shipped 18 Su-30MKI to India, at the same time accepting the return of the Su-30Ks, but factually until July 2011 all aircraft stayed on the Indian territory.

This contract reflects the essence of most agreements signed with the third world countries, including the least developed CSTO partners like Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan. Those usually concern spare parts, light firearms, ammunition, armour (usually repaired used armour from the Russian Armed Forces), used aircraft. The only exception are copters and armoured cars, which are usually bought new.

In what comes to Angola, further economic growth and increase in military spending can move the country towards the «second strategy» states, if it chooses to develop its relationship with Russia in the area. But as of yet, the number of the «third strategy» states is by far the largest: by expert estimations, these from some two thirds of the 70 states working with Rosoboronexport. However, the yearly income from this group is relatively small and is estimated to be 10 to 15 percent of the full shipments amount. Politically motivated deals are also common for this group. That concerns primarily the aforementioned CSTO partners, which see military cooperation with Moscow as a guarantee of political stability and continued existence of the current regimes.

The strategies in action demonstrate the wide variety of the instruments used by Russia in the area to produce profits and increase its political influence. The political motivation can vary from supporting allies on the key directions (the CSTO deals) and securing the new (or old but well forgotten) markets to growing the regional influence (Venezuela, Angola) or keeping and strengthening the relationship with the strategically important partners (as is the case with India).

Depending on the abilities and importance of the partners, Russia’s ready to provide all forms of cooperation, including construction of assembly or service plants in the customer country. The risk of technology leak is also taken into consideration. Only the most industrially developed nations are able to promptly copy modern weaponry. In addition to Russia, these are the US, several NATO nations, which are not buying the Russian weapons, and China. All in all, the «lagging exports» strategy, when the weapons exported are a generation behind the ones produced for own armed forces, is guarantee enough. This strategy, used successfully by the USSR, is factually reborn again in the current environment, when the Russian defense industry is switching to a new generation of weaponry and vehicles for arming the Army, the Airforce, and the Navy.

Let Them Libel

Translating from here, I make no claim to the article.

The storm of Western criticism that fell upon Russia in the beginning days of the Sochi Games made even the most optimistic falter. Too striking a contrast between reality and coverage, too obvious a bias could not have avoided causing perplexity: something’s off here.

Not out of surprise, not out of indignation, but this time around the Russian public discussion practically lacked the standard narrative that we can’t win information wars. That didn’t even require appealing to the difficulty of winning one in a foreign mediasphere, where all the chief TV stations and press belong to the apparent enemy (what, were we supposed to drop leaflets from the air upon Brussels and Washington?). Those who remember the times had to ponder: the pressure wasn’t that hard even during the Cold War.

That could’ve been a blessing in disguise, though. It seems like the media hysteria caused confused even in the West itself. Which gave rise to more sober voices. One of the most noticeable publications on the subject became the Steven Cohen’s article in The Nation that the Russian media vigorously quoted. We’ll quote from it, too: “Even in the venerable New York Times and Washington Post, news reports, editorials and commentaries no longer adhere rigorously to traditional journalistic standards, often failing to provide essential facts and context; to make a clear distinction between reporting and analysis; to require at least two different political or “expert” views on major developments; or to publish opposing opinions on their op-ed pages. As a result, American media on Russia today are less objective, less balanced, more conformist and scarcely less ideological than when they covered Soviet Russia during the Cold War”.

It’s hard to tell which part of such coverage of Russia is malice, and which is elementary stupidity. Imagine some American newspaper reporter who has to write one more fifty-line article to cover some event in our country. His paper has published several hundreds of articles on the horrors of the putinist regime and the scale of the devastation of the country in the last ten years (half of which he wrote himself), so he can’t just up and write: Hey, look, that Putin guy looks swell, and it turns out Russia’s developing fine under him. Something has to change for that to happen, and not in Russia, but in the heads of the journalist and his editor. The intellectual fashion has to chance. And it’s obvious that this doesn’t just happen.

Who knows, maybe one of the main results of the Sochi Olympics for our country will be the Western media taking a detached view of itself and switching to reporting on our country with less prejudice. We believe in the freedom of press, of course, but can’t ignore the fact that it never goes as far as to contradict the national interest (or at least not to contradict it too much). There have been a few examples in the recent years, such as the destruction of computers that contained the materials from Edward Snowden in The Guardian. So the attitude towards Russia in the West is a derivative of what is desired of us. And what they want habitually is us being pliant in matters big and small – both in the matter of missile defense and, say, some topic where a Western leader wants to present himself before his electorate: look how harsh I am with these Russians. So there’s no reason to worry too much what is being written about us in the West. That seems like another benefit from this massed slander campaign – a large number of people will take our PR image abroad much more calmly.

It’s been a long time since anything like this

Translating from here – I make no claim to the content of the article.

Despite the difficult socio-economical state, Russia is capable of completing the most ambitious tasks. This is the most important conclusion that the preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympics allow us to make.

When almost seven years ago in Guatemala our country got the right to host the 2014 Olympic Games, it was even a bit scary: are we up for the task? There was a colossal amount of work to be done. The only meager evidence that Sochi can be a Winter Games host city was the more or less decent skiing resort at Krasnaya Polyana. Nothing else that could be used for the Olympiad was present in the city and its vicinity. Not only was there no fitting stadiums, there were no normal modern central railroad station, no airport, no hotels in sufficient quantity. Pressed between the mountains and the sea, the city was suffocating in traffic jams, there were energy supply problems, finally, Sochi lacked a modern sewer system with waste treatment facilities. (A striking contrast against the Austrian candidate city Salzburg going under the slogan “We are ready”, where all the sportive venues were ready to accommodate the sportsmen in that very 2007). Hardly surprising it is, then, that the head of “Interros” Vladimir Potanin, present at the declaration of Sochi’s victory, said with mixed feelings: “The most important thing now is not fucking up”.

Many believed that this will be the case. The opposition started using the coming Games as a reason for criticism right away. For instance, Boris Nemtsov predicted a bunch of problems for Sochi, from an ecological catastrophe to a tourist flow reduction. A few different public persons spoke up unambiguously against the Olympiad in Sochi, from Valeria Novodvoskaya to Victor Geraschenko. There was a lot of talk on the reasonability of hosting the Games in subtropics – as if Turin that hosted 2006 Olympics is beyond the Polar Circle. Finally, there were quite real attempts to ruin the Sochi Olympics. At least, that motive was quite evident in the motivations of the organizers of the Georgian attack on South Ossetia in August 2008 – right when the Summer Games in Beijing were beginning.

But the project was completed, despite the technical and organizational difficulties. And this is undoubtedly an achievement – regardless whether there will be certain insignificant shortcomings during the Games themselves (and there perhaps will be) and regardless of the results of the Russian team (and they will certainly be better than the previous Vancouver Games). The Sochi Olympics is a large victory, something of which Russia has a bit forgotten the taste.

The Scale

The main point of criticism is the “unprecedented cost” of the Games. The full amount of the Olympic investment is estimated to be 1.5 trillion rubles, that is, approximately 50 billion dollars. This is indeed a lot. But, first, not without precedent (the Beijing Games cost 45 bn), and second, saying that the entirety of the sum went to pay for the Olympics would be a gross exaggeration. The lion’s share (no less than 80%) was spent of developing Sochi and the Krasnodar oblast in general. Factually, a whole city was built.

What can the size of the Olympic investment be compared with? We won’t find anything similar in the newest history, so we’ll have to turn to the Soviet experience. Let’s take for instance the Baikal-Amur Railroad. The cost of its construction is estimated to be 18 bn rubles in 1991 prices. The commercial (not the official, but not the market one, either) exchange rate was 1.8 rubles per dollar. That means 10 bn dollars in the prices of the time. If we account for inflation it turns out constructing the railroad cost the Soviet Union almost 20 bn dollars (quite comparable to the Games preparation cost). By some evaluations, the Baikal-Amur Railroad was the most expensive infrastructure project in the history of USSR, and, by Egor Gaidar’s estimation, its costs quadrupled over the time of construction. At that, construction of the BAR took 12 years, and in Sochi, which is despite anything not Siberia, the work took six years.

Another telling comparison is the Kama Automotive Plant (KaMAZ). Building the plant itself cost about 8 bn rubles in 1970ies prices (from 13 bn. dollars by official rate to 5 bn. by more realistic estimations). But in addition to that, factually a new city was built – Naberezhnye Chelny had its population increased from 30 thousand to half a million. That is, the growth was about 140 thousand families, each of which required no less than a 50 square meters of real estate to live. With the current prices of constructing apartment buildings at 1 thousand dollars per 1 square meter, that’d require 7 bn. dollars. And about the same for the rest of the city infrastructure. So we arrive at no less than 30 bn. dollars again. Quite comparable to the Sochi spending. The KaMAZ was constructed over 11 years.

These examples allow us to visibly estimate the scale of the work done. The work that has in some surprising way ended up buried under a pile of idle talk about the corruption, the accommodation conditions for the migrant laborers, the fate of the stray dogs or the number of times the Olympic torch went out during the relay race. It’s understandable that this is all important. But the very fact is surprising: the country has built something comparable in scale to the Baikal-Amur Railroad or the KaMAZ, and almost nobody noticed.

This is War

“This is such nonsense, even gibberish” – what could the reason be for such an exclamation from the usually restrained Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov? The “question of the century” that has the Western (although, in part, the Russian, too) media so excited: some heads of the state have ignored the invitation to see the Sochi Olympics. The question is, in case you’re not aware, one of the most discussed lately both in different media and the social network. A bit like each time before a G8 summit the topic of whether Russia should be expelled from this most honorable club, having not earned the membership, floats up.

“Since we’ve touched upon it, I can remember any Games in my time being followed by such discussion of how many heads of the states attended. Nobody has ever counted. And they started counting when they decided they want to bash Russia is some way, so it doesn’t feel itself all that good and comfortable” – Lavrov noticed and reminded that 44 heads of state will be present only at the opening ceremony, and 60 world leaders will attend all in all. All the while, the previous Winter Games in Vancouver were attended by some ten heads of state. But that did not particularly concern anyone. And, for instance, Barack Obama, whose absence in Sochi riled the press so much, did not attend the London Olympics, either (the American President coming to visit an event like the Games is, by the way, a guaranteed organizational catastrophe because of the safety measures taken).

The way how the Games coverage is shifted towards secondary, murky topics is telling, since it’s not the first case. The coverage of the Beijing Olympics was similar: ecology, human rights, animal rights, internal security questions, wrong international politics, possible boycott – it all piled up in exactly the same way as with Russia. And it’d be strange if it was different. Because a permanent information war is being waged in the world (it’s enough to see the Western coverage of the events in Ukraine or Syria to lose any doubt in it), and there is no reason to expect an exception to be made for Russia and the Olympics. Nobody’s making it, too. For instance, Time printed its American edition with the Olympic rings entwined with barbed wire.

The other thing’s sad – the fact how readily the many in Russia respond to this suggested negative agenda. It’s obvious that many don’t like the government (both what it’s doing and on personality basis). But it’s impossible to seriously attempt either political struggle or critical thinking while ignoring the aforementioned information war. Because willfully ignoring it is not the high-moral distancing from it, but taking a particular side – while apparently the people doing it can’t be called dull. In case it’s not taking a side, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect certain hard statements about the dishonesty of our Western friends? And some harsher ones, since this informational pressure is hindering us in building the very free and developed country that the critics so care about ostensibly. Does anyone honestly believe that the Western media is trying to reduce the coverage of the Olympiad to embezzlement, Potemkin villages, and Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to increase the competitiveness and influence of Russia? Putin is, no doubt, an extremely inconvenient politician for the West, and the fact that he’s immensely popular in the world is especially aggravating. For instance, going by the poll ITAR-TASS ran among the world’s journalistic community, Putin became the undisputed number one politician.

It’s obvious why Putin’s figure causes such repulsion – because he’s not pretending to rule, like the vast majority of the heads of state, but ruling in fact. And ruling one of the leading world’s countries, which gives him the leverage that, quite likely, anyone else in the world lacks. And in this context, he is really the politician number one.

The lessons of Sochi

The big project was completed successfully, which means new ones are possible. Of course, serious questions can be asked about the Olympiad. For instance, the Games look quite light-headed compared to the Soviet industrial projects like the KaMAZ and the BAR. Something more productive could be desirable. But it’s easy to imagine a situation with Putin trying to start a similar large project – say, an automotive plant.

First, we’d hear the same critical arguments, rehashed. Why spend a bunch of money on equipment, build something, everything will be stolen anyway, we’ll have to move the people, etcetera. And second, that indeed faces certain risks. A large economic project like this is a responsibility to keep it afloat. And we have problems with VAZ as it is already. And it’s generally not quite clear how the return of such a grandiose project can be planned. If the government plans to participate in the economical life directly, it should, perhaps, do that on a smaller scale.

At the same time, a large project was necessary. We all absolutely had to look at ourselves as if from a different angle. So far this has been, apparently, a success.

Want peace?

Translating from here – I make no claim to the content of the article.

Military tension grows around Russia, proving the validity of the state defense industry development program

The economical and political importance of the ambitious defense industry development plan is becoming ever clearer, even if not to everyone by far. The federal targeted program for development of military-industrial complex, the similar program on strategic materials, the industry-wide programs (for aviation, radioelectronics, and others) form a plan for reconstruction and development of the largest segment of the domestic industry. Of course, an important question remains: what will this segment’s effectiveness be for the civilian industries and for the economy at large? Generally speaking, the market and the corporative form of production can produce a good multiplicative effect thanks to the development of the military-industrial complex. This effect is what the state program “Development of industry and increasing its competitiveness” is making a stake on, but all in all this topic holds promise for analysis and discussion.

Now let’s talk on the military-political importance of the programs in effect. The very ideology of these documents, which includes targeted budget financing with a sum total of about 20 trillion rubles until the beginning of the 2020ies, was reason for harsh criticism even before their parliamentary approval. The idea of cutting the defense spending remains the foundational one for the neoliberal, pseudodemocratical rhetorics. For many years the answer to the question “Who is going to attack us” is presumed to be self-evident: “Nobody, of course”. This understanding of the lack of threats, or the gross misrepresenting of their scale by the Putin’s elite, its opponents explain by the peacefulness of the West, the illusory nature of the threats from the East, and the deterring potential of the nuclear weapons.

In our opinion, the estimation of military threat to the Russian Federation as low or even non-existent is erroneous. Even without being a strategic analyst, from the point of view of a usual observer, a few factors of the international situation can be named that tell of the real danger of either full-scale military action just across our border or direct military action against Russia itself (not necessarily by the currently commonly known methods) in the nearest future. Such factors are often ignored by the society at large during long peaceful pauses, as was the case before the World War I. And we don’t really remember how active arms race was perpetuated for a few decades before August 1914, which was to change the face of the future warfare. And the fact that this was the period of forming military blocks, hostile to each other, and the growth of socio-economic tension. But turns out, the Federal Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, does remember, judging by her recent claim that the current situation in Europe remains her of the eve of the war one hundred years ago. Or is this woman paranoid, too, as are supposedly the Russian military and the patriotic politicians? This looks rather unlikely.

So, the first factor meaningful for forming the well-based public estimation of threats is the state of affairs in production, upgrading, and export of armaments in the world. Let us remind the reader that in the beginning of the 1990ies, just after the end of the Soviet Perestroika, many considered the Arms Race as it was during the Cold War of 1946-1991 a thing of the past. That was the case for us, but not for the US and, as it turned out later, not for China, which was just preparing to enter that race for good. Now we’re living in the world where the most militarily powerful nation , the US, which has ostensibly ensured its strategic safety long ago, shows an unprecedentedly high level of defense spending. This could mean that the US is preparing a military aggression, or that it is evaluating the threats to the international security completely differently than the Russian “creative class”. Or both.

The second factor is the active development of the new types of weapons, especially in the aforementioned USA. Creation of new types of weapons always means the desire to change the existing balance of powers. In the modern era, another conclusion begs to be made. The efforts of the American engineers are centered around the development of the non-nuclear weapons. Why? Because their usage could avoid the “nuclear prohibition” on large wars, that is, that guarantee of mutual destruction that has been holding back the most hawkish of politicians for years. The most obvious of efforts of the kind of the spreading of the American anti-missile defense zone, which has for years been creeping up to the Russian borders. Besides that, the development of non-nuclear weapons, as the Department of Defense PR people let us know, is focused on the creation of the weapons, be they informational, psychological, or genetic, that are aimed at preventive removal of any defense capability from a potential defending side.

Let’s list a few more threats to international security. These are the existence of large state and intrastate forces with objectively different interests, such as the NATO and the SCO, including Russia and China; the growing tensions between the Pacific states, for instance China and Japan, as well the strategic activity of the US in the area; the notorious “clash of civilizations” making fuss in Asia from Syria to Pakistan. And, after all, these are instability zones old and new just across our borders. From the Central Asia, where the presence of American forces in the last ten or twelve years hasn’t made the region any safer, to Ukraine, where the doomed negotiations with the EU provoked a crisis. Potential civil war there could mean a significant threat for the neighbors if the country falls apart along the East-West divide, especially given the likely guarantees for the latter from the NATO, or the attempts to settle the matter of who Kiev belongs to militarily.

Political and media elites of the West are rather effective at convincing anyone doubting that they want peace. We want peace no less, don’t we? So, we have to prepare for war, too.

Is this site blocked in Russia?

The prevalence of this question says more about the kind of propaganda the Western media spews upon its readers than about Russia, in my opinion. Russia is not China, after all. So the short answer is: no. The long answer is: unless it has propaganda of drug use and suicide, child pornography, or propaganda of racial or ethnic hatred, no, this site is not blocked in Russia. Simple as that. And no, that blocking mechanism is not used to block the opposition’s sites, unless they’re some kind of far-right nutjobs and qualify for the last blocking reason.

Is traveling to Russia safe?

No, you will be consumed by bears the moment you step off the plane.

Seriously now. That depends. Do you consider travel to Mexico safe? To Brazil, maybe? Well these are countries with intentional homicide rate twice higher than in Russia. Is travel to the US safe? It has almost twice more sentenced criminals per capita, and of the top fifty cities by murder rate four are in the US, and none in Russia.

As you can see, statistics aren’t supporting the horror stories the Western media likes to tell about Russia. But just focusing on the negative is never enough, of course, is it? The western narrative tries to paint Russia as the backwards land of homophobic and ethnic violence. While indeed crimes motivated by homophobia and ethnic hatred happen in Russia, I wonder why that media doesn’t dwell on the exactly similar conflicts going on in their own countries. Some objectiveness they have.

Now, once we have moved past looking at statistical data, what does it mean for you as a tourist to Russia or an expat? Simply put, Russian cities are rather safe; tourist zones especially. Exercising reasonable cautiousness should be enough to keep you out of trouble. For instance, any crowded areas, especially full of well-off people, such as the downtown zones where the main tourist destinations are located, are fertile grounds for pickpockets. Similarly, while walking through the streets is generally safe enough throughout Russian cities, not just downtowns, at any hour (thanks to the socialist urban planning that stopped ghettos from forming), walking alone into some dark backstreet with your expensive electronics in full view might not be the optimal strategy.

In my own experience, I worked second shifts when employed at the casino, so I regularly walked a kilometer or so home through my neighborhood from the subway station after midnight. In the three years I did it almost daily, once a guy tried to rob me. Since I was returning from a novemdial, I was drunk and without money, so I handed him the 200 rubles I had on me (7$) in exchange for him telling me a few stories of his troubled past, buying us both drinks in the meanwhile. We parted on friendly terms.

So, summing it up, as long as you don’t do something stupid like challenging a pack of gopniks to a fight or hanging around junkies, you should be safe in Russia.