Tag Archives: Russia

Misreading the Russian Economy

In my latest piece for RT, I discuss Joe Biden’s recent statement that Russia has ‘an economy that has nuclear weapons and oil wealth and nothing else. Nothing else.‘ The Russian economy does indeed have many problems, I point out, but failure to produce anything other than nuclear weapons and oil isn’t of them.

Read here,

Low Oil Price – BAD for Russia. High Oil Price – Bad for Russia Too!

I’m sure that you remember how back in 2014 the oil price collapsed and pundits left, right, and centre lined up to tell us that Russia was doomed. The Russian economy was overdependent on hydrocarbons, they said. They constituted most of Russian exports and provided the Russian state with most of its funds. Before long, Russia would be bankrupt. The state would have to use up all its reserves. In two years, they’d be exhausted, and there would be nothing left to pay anybody. Social discontent would explode. Yada yada yada.

It was true in part: the collapse of the oil price caused a huge drop in the value of the ruble, creating inflationary pressures, to which the Russian central bank responded by shoving up interest rates, so dampening consumer demand, and causing a recession. The impact was indeed bad.

But it wasn’t nearly as bad as we were told to expect. Incomes stagnated, but unemployment stayed low. Inflation was kept under control. And the state budget hardly suffered at all – indeed, before long, state reserves were as full as ever. Russia learned to cope with lower oil prices, and until the covid pandemic came along and messed things up again, life seemed to be returning more or less to normal, even if not quite up to the boom times of the 2000s.

Like me, you may have noticed that filling up your car has become more expensive recently. The reason is simple. The price of oil has gone back up again, albeit not as far as before 2014. And guess what? Whereas once I read lots of articles telling me how low oil prices were bad for Russia, now I’m seeing articles telling me the opposite – high oil prices are bad for Russia.

Well, blow me down with a feather. Who’d have thunk it?

As a case in point, I draw your attention to a piece published this week on the website “Riddle” , a source of fairly consistent criticism of the condition of modern Russia. Written by the liberal Russian political analyst Vladislav Inozemtsev, it bears the title ‘The Perfect Trap’, and it’s full of foreboding about the dangerous long term implications of high commodity prices.

The danger, says Inozemtsev, is that with high oil prices, the Russian state becomes flush with cash, at which point it starts spending with abandon. Everything seems hunky dory, and the state becomes complacent and doesn’t bother about reform. Oil money is like a ‘magic wand’ and, says Inozemtsev, “The return of high commodity prices for the third time since the 2000s and early 2010s may finally convince Russian ­leaders that this ‘magic wand’ works without fail.” Consequently, the state will commit itself to ever rising expenditures.

The problem, Inozemtsev argues, is that the high commodity prices can’t last. Modern economies are switching to low-energy production as well as to non-hydrocarbon sources of energy. Down the road, the bottom will fall out of the hydrocarbon market and the Russian state will be left with enormous financial commitments it can’t afford. At that point, Russia will suffer the fate of countries like Venezuela that have fallen into a similar trap – i.e. that spent like crazy when prices were high only to then suffer a calamitous collapse once the price went down.

To be frank, I’m not totally convinced about demand for hydrocarbons being in long-term decline. Maybe that’s the case in Western Europe, but that’s hardly representative of the world as a whole, where poorer nations are growing fast and with that developing a powerful appetite for more and more energy. Inozemtsev is a typical Russian liberal who views Western Europe as the model of the world’s future. But if so, it’s a future the rest of the world is far away from.

But putting that aside, there is actually something to this analysis. Excessive reliance on natural resource income comes with potential problems, such as the infamous ‘Dutch disease’, in which oil profits drive up the value of the national currency and thereby ruin the profitability of domestic industry by making their exports more expensive while also making imports cheaper. There is also a link between natural resources and ‘rentier states’ – such states are often corrupt and autocratic in nature and survive by buying off opposition, a system that works until the cash runs out, at which point everything falls apart. Venezuela is a case in point.

Furthermore, it’s also true that the money from natural resource rents removes incentives for structural change that might be costly in the short term but are of long term benefit. Bit by bit, the country relying on natural resources can end up becoming less and less efficient relative to other states.

So, maybe Inozemtsev is on to something. But then again, countries like Norway and Canada rely heavily on natural resource exploitation without falling into Inozemtsev’s ‘trap’. So it’s not inevitable. It’s all dependent on the policies that states pursue. Inozemtsev thinks that the Russian state will ‘spend, spend, spend’. He writes that, “Expenditures will continue­ to rise (it is important to note that, unlike revenues, expenditures have never declined in the last ­20 years) until it becomes clear that the main source of Russian wealth has dried up.” But Russian state expenditure as a percentage of GDP is a fairly modest 35%, and state debt is one of the very lowest in the world. The scenario Inozemtsev describes is possible, but not in line with current levels of spending.

Anyway, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted a bit too much by technicalities. Maybe Inozemtsev is right; maybe he isn’t. Only time will tell. The really interesting thing about the article isn’t that. What’s actually of note is the article’s very existence – i.e. the fact that as soon as the situation changed, punditry switched 180% from saying ‘low oil prices bad’ to saying ‘No! High oil prices bad!’

To my mind, it’s kind of telling. Whatever happens, Russia is doomed. Is it? I’m not so sure. How about middling oil prices, anyone?

Brits in Crimea: Scared of looking scared

It’s said that, when asked why he had escalated America’s military campaign in Vietnam, US president Lyndon Johnson pulled down his trousers, whipped out his male member, and said “That’s why!’

I have no idea if this is true, but it’s quite plausible. For LBJ, Vietnam was nothing if not a test of manhood. As he told his biographer Doris Kearns: “If I left that way and let the communists take over South Vietnam, then I would be seen as a coward … an unmanly man, a man without spine.”

It’s perhaps too harsh to say that 58,000 Americans died so that LBJ could feel like a man. But there’s something to it. And as I detailed in my 2006 book Military Honour and the Conduct of War, LBJ is hardly unique. Throughout the ages, war – like international politics generally – has been powerfully influenced by the search for honour, and perhaps even more by the desire to avoid dishonour.

One you realize this, a lot of international politics suddenly makes sense. Modern Westerners tend to be a bit uncomfortable with the language of honour. It sounds a bit archaic. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not relevant – just that we’re not very good at recognizing it in ourselves. A case in point is the incident last week when a British warship sailed through what Russia claims are its territorial waters off Crimea. But before we get onto that, we first need to take a little diversion into academic theory.

Honour, as Aristotle put it, is “the reward for virtue.” What virtue consists of is something we’ll come onto in a moment, but the key point is that honour comes from displaying virtue. Honour also comes in two forms – external and internal, otherwise expressed by words such as prestige, reputation, face, etc. in the first instance, or like conscience and integrity in the second. Seen this way, honour is, according to a well-known definition, the worth of a person in his/her own eyes as well as the worth of a person in the eyes of others. Either way, it’s a measurement of worth. But of the two forms (internal and external) the first is the most important – the reason one wants to be considered worthy in the eyes of others is because it makes you feel worthy in your own eyes. Ultimately, honour is all about feeling good about yourself.

Another way of looking at honour is to divide it into two other types. The first is absolute, and is often associated with female honour. This type you either have or you don’t – you’re pure, and so honourable, until you aren’t and you’re not. The second type is relative and competitive – or “agonistic” in the technical jargon. This type is traditionally associated with male virtues – strength, courage, prowess, and so on. Honour of this type has to be perpetually defended, lest one loses one’s relative position. It requires one both to challenge others and to defend oneself any time one is challenged.

This latter type of honour tends to flourish where governance is weak, and people or institutions feel that they need to exert themselves in order to survive. This gives it an instrumental purpose. But it also tends to get detached from this purpose. Strength, courage, prowess etc are considered important in the sense of being necessary to defend against threats. Because of that, societies tend to promote them as virtues, rewarding their display. The result is that people internalize them and feel a need to display these virtues even when it’s not appropriate. Because virtue and worth have become associated with strength, courage, prowess etc, showing strength, courage, prowess, etc becomes almost an end in itself – or at least, a psychological necessity to avoid the sense of shame that comes from failing to live up to the standard of virtue.

The result is a lot of utterly unnecessary conflict, as individuals, including state leaders, feel the need to challenge one another and respond forcibly to anything that is perceived to be a challenge.

Which brings us on to the shenanigans of the Royal Navy last week off the coast of Crimea.

In a recent post, I speculated as to what inspired this particular piece of foolish derring-do. Now we have an answer, courtesy of some waterlogged Ministry of Defence documents found abandoned behind a bus stop in Kent. In these, anonymous defence officials predicted that the Russian response to a British incursion into Crimean waters might be fairly forceful. But they also concluded that this was no reason not to direct the British warship HMS Defender to sail through the waters in question. Were that to happen, said the documents, people might get the impression of “the UK being scared/running away.”

At which point, I hope, the connection with what I said earlier becomes clear. One might imagine that the Russian-British spat was a matter of high principle or national interest. In reality, it’s about not wanting to look cowardly.

In effect, the Russian annexation of Crimea was a “challenge” to the West. As such, the logic of honour requires a response. Failing to face up to the challenge by sailing around Crimea would have meant ducking the challenge, and as such was unacceptable. The fact that the Russians might respond forcefully made meeting the challenge even more essential. If there was no chance of a forceful response, there wouldn’t be any cowardice in failing to meet it. It was precisely the possibility that things might turn violent that made the escapade necessary.

This seems strange, but the logic is entirely in keeping with the perverse incentives provided by the honour code. The possibility that an incident might escalate into war isn’t a reason to back off; it’s actually all the more reason to press on.

The thing about this, though, is that the challenge in question was purely imaginary. It existed in the minds of the Royal Navy, but not anywhere else. People weren’t actually going to think that the British were a bunch of cowards if they decided to sail from Odessa to Georgia by some other route. In fact, nobody would have noticed, let alone cared.

Thus, going back to what I said earlier, the internal aspect of honour is what matters here – it’s all about self-perception rather than the perception of others. What’s driving this is a feeling in the British establishment that their status in the world isn’t what it was. The sense of internal dishonour this provokes makes them feel bad about themselves. And so they incite a conflict in order to boost their self-esteem.

If you have a spare hour, I recommend Bill Moyer’s documentary LBJ’s Road to War. A lot of it consists of recordings of President Johnson’s phone calls with his advisors about Vietnam. What comes out of it is that all concerned knew that escalating the war was a bad idea and wouldn’t succeed. But more important from LBJ’s point of view was that he didn’t want to look weak. And the rest as they say, is history. The lesson is obvious, and its one that the Brits – and everybody else – would do well to learn.

Banning Bard

In another article for RT, published today, I discuss the decision of the Russian prosecutor to ban New York-based Bard College. This is, I say, a ‘foolish and counterproductive’ decision that ‘will send a chill across the academic community, and deter anybody in Russia or the West who is considering future cooperation on even the most mutually beneficial matters.’ Read here.

Summit Yawn

I feel that I should write something about the outcome of the much-awaited Putin-Biden meeting in Geneva, but to be frank it’s a bit of a yawn. As was to be expected, nothing much was decided, though they at least avoided a major bust-up (it would have been more newsworthy if they hadn’t). The Russian news agency TASS asked me for a comment, and I replied as follows:

Expectations were low regarding this summit and it’s fair to say that those expectations were met. Nobody foresaw a major breakthrough on any issues, and there weren’t any. At most, they agreed to keep talking, especially on nuclear arms control. That said, the two sides took a very, very modest step towards better relations, as seen by the announcement that the respective ambassadors will be returning to their posts. Overall, I would assess as it as a very moderately positive outcome, but the gap between the two sides remains extremely wide.

In essence, there’s not a whole lot to say about the summit. The real issue is how both sides go on from here. There are serious impediments to any forward movement. It’s not just that the USA and Russia have incompatible views of their own national interests. It’s also that there appears to be an almost complete lack of mutual trust. Consequently, I tend to the view that what matters is not reaching agreement on any substantial matters but preventing the hotheads on either side from dragging US-Russia relations even further into the depths. In other words, it’s not about repairing relations, it’s about preventing them from collapsing entirely.

On the Russian side, the big danger, to my mind, is that some idiot in the security and intelligence services will take it into his brain to do something crazy, like the poisonings of Sergei Skripal and Alexei Navalny, or even worse. Sadly, one can’t rule it out. Beyond that, outside of the talking heads on Russian TV shows, I don’t see any appetite for conflict in Russia. I see of lot of resignation that it’s unavoidable, but no desire to make things worse.

I’m less confident in that regard when it comes to the Americans. Biden himself seems fairly level-headed, but as I pointed out in a recent post about Ambassador Kurt Volker and his phrase “success is confrontation,” there is an element in the US foreign policy establishment that seems to be gunning for a fight. On the American side, the challenge will be to see these people off.

I suspect that Biden will be able to quieten the extremists on his side a little bit by pointing to the fact that he used the summit to raise issues with which Putin might feel uncomfortable, such as human rights. No doubt Biden’s supporters will use this as evidence that he is suitably “tough.” In reality, though, this is so much window dressing. One can’t imagine that it will change Russian behaviour in any way. More important is what Biden didn’t do, which is that he didn’t go out of his way to annoy Putin. Nor did he put any obvious spokes in the way of future negotiations. In fact, the summit ended with agreement to keep talking on some key matters. That’s not exactly progress, but it’s not the confrontation that Volker and his ilk were looking for.

In that sense, I see the summit as a bit of a defeat for the hardliners in Washington. Not a huge one, to be sure, but still a setback for them. Given that we couldn’t realistically have expected anything more, I think that on the whole we can consider the meeting a job well done.

Russia’s Futile Extremist Law

This week, the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, approved the first reading of a bill designed to restrict the rights of people associated with groups officially designated as ‘extremist’. As described by Meduza:

“According to the draft law, former “leaders” of terrorist or extremist groups will be banned from running for parliament for a five-year period after said organization is outlawed officially. For an organization’s regular employees, as well as “other persons involved in its activities,” the ban on being elected to parliament will last for three years.

What’s more, anyone who led an outlawed organization in the three years before it was blacklisted could be deprived of the right to be elected to the State Duma. Anyone who supported or worked for an outlawed organization one year before the ban could face the same penalty. In other words, the legislation is meant to have retroactive effect.”

Unsurprisingly, this law has engendered some hostile criticism from those who see it is proof that the Russian state is moving away from ‘soft authoritarism’ towards something closer to ‘hard authoritarianism’. I share the general lack of enthusiasm, and regard the law as definitely a step in an undemocratic direction. Beyond that, I also consider it completely pointless. My logic is as follows:

  1. The law in effect allows the executive branch of government to prevent anybody it so wishes from standing for election, simply by declaring the organization to which they belong as ‘extremist’. This is not a power one would wish the executive in any society to have.
  2. Why not? First, because it’s arguably contrary to democratic values in and of itself. Second, because the power is likely to be used arbitrarily. In Russia’s case, it seems to be directed against opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), which the Russian state is attempting to label as ‘extremist’. But why FBK? Why not any number of other political groups who one might think much more properly fit the ‘extremist’ label? Why not the Rodina party, or Zhirinovsky’s LDPR? Or others? The reason seems to be that the Russian state doesn’t object to those, whereas it does object to Navalny. That’s not good reasoning.
  3. The only check on this is judicial review of the ‘extremist’ label, but there is an understandable lack of confidence in the Russian courts’ political independence.
  4. It’s completely unnecessary. No ‘extremist’ organization – including Navalny and his team – is in a position to win seats in parliamentary elections. The law seems to be directed against a threat which doesn’t exist.
  5. It’s counterproductive. The primary reason for considering Navalny and co. ‘extremist’ is their choice of tactics – street demonstrations. But there’s a reason why they resort to those – they feel that there is little point in using normal methods of political struggle via elections. It was rather similar in the late Imperial period – liberal oppositionists became more and more radical because the government restricted alternative modes of political engagement. By banning groups from participating in elections, you leave them no choice but to engage in street protest, seek support from foreign governments, etc. The way to de-radicalize them is to make electoral politics meaningful. This legislation does the opposite.

So, all in all, this legislation takes Russia in the wrong direction, in my opinion. How far in that direction remains to seen. Much will depend on how it will be implemented. But even if the Russian state chooses not to list large numbers of groups as ‘extremist’, thereby limiting this laws scope, the very threat of such labelling could have a chilling effect on opposition activity. All in all, a bad week for Russian democracy.

The Pinochet Option – Liberal Authoritarianism, Russian Style

Right now, I’m reading Alfred Koch’s rambling 2009 book A Crate of Vodka, in which he and journalist Igor Svinarenko muse over their lives in the period 1991 to 2001. Koch was Russian Deputy Prime Minister, with responsibility for privatization, in the mid-1990s, and his book provides an insight into the inner workings of the Russian liberal mind of that period. On pages 44-45 and 284 of the book, he notes the following:

I have nothing against a strong hand, when it is strong. I developed a lot of my mentality in Chile. We got some training from ministers who were in the Pinochet government. … Pinochet didn’t try to pass himself off as a democrat, which he was not. He knew they needed to build a liberal economy, and he built it; he knew they needed to stifle the opposition, and he stifled it. Just as he was supposed to. … It pained me to think that we, unlike the Chileans, did not manage to seize power from our leftists in 1973. We had Russian Communists an extra 18 years in our country … The mighty old man Pinochet spared his country the humiliations that are inevitable under a Communist regime. He overthrew the regime when he got sick and tired of it, when he couldn’t stand it any more. … Grandpa-General Pinochet acted like a man, and shot from the hip. But we didn’t have any one in those years who could have brought the country in line with common sense. Who had the strength, the intelligence, and the conscience. It just didn’t work out that way. … Chile, 1973. Total collapse. The economy just stopped. The country was bankrupt. Politically, a dead end. Then, like in a bad movie, fast forward on the calendar, twenty years later… What better example do we need to see that we must act and not just gab about reforms?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how modern Russia has moved in an authoritarian direction in the past couple of years. Of course, people have been saying that for years, but the argument is that with a recent clampdown on opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his allies, Russian president Vladimir Putin has shifted from ‘soft’ authoritarianism to ‘hard’ authoritarianism. Anna Nemtsova, for instance, recently published a piece in the Daily Beast with the title ‘Russia plunges into era of “dictatorship” as Putin looms over Eastern Europe.’ Other such articles abound.

I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of many of the repressive measures recently introduced by the Russian state: declaring media ‘foreign agents’, labelling Navalny’s organization ‘extremist’, and so on. But while Russian liberals bleat about the illiberal and undemocratic nature of their government, Koch’s statement above makes it worth spending a little time considering how Russia ended up that way and who built the system that Putin now governs.

Continue reading The Pinochet Option – Liberal Authoritarianism, Russian Style

The Guardian’s Anti-Russian Vax Propaganda plunges to New Depths

What a f****ing disgrace! I did develop a bit of a potty mouth while in the army, but I generally refrain from bad language on this blog. But there are times when it just spontaneously spews out in disgust at the sheer utter revolting vileness of the British press.

I know. It’s always been bad. But one could distinguish between the likes of The Sun and The Mirror on the one hand, and the more serious ‘broadsheet’ press on the other, treating the former not so as newspapers but as a type of entertainment while expecting some degree of seriousness from the latter. Alas, those days are long gone, especially when it comes to all things Russian. Instead of honest reporting, what we get from too much of the British press is a torrent of extreme Russophobic propaganda masquerading as news. It is truly a f***ing disgrace.

What brought on this rant? The answer is an article in today’s copy of The Guardian about Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine. Even by the rotten standards of The Guardian it plummets the depths of propagandistic nastiness, serving no purpose other than to incite hatred of Russia, while doing its darndest to undermine worldwide efforts to get us out of the covid pandemic. We’ve seen many (invalid) complaints about Russia spreading anti-vax propaganda. Well, here here we British anti-vax propaganda of the basest kind. It kind of makes you want to vomit.

The gist of the article is summed up in the headline and subtitle: ‘Is Russia’s Covid vaccine anything more than a political weapon? Observers say the Sputnik V jab is aimed more at sowing political division than fighting coronavirus.’

WTF? I mean, really. WTF? Russian researchers really went to all the effort of developing a coronavirus vaccine so that they could ‘sow political division’ in the West? Listen to yourself speaking, man. Are you serious?

Unfortunately, author Jon Henley is, and embarks on a long explanation of just how vile the Russians are for having developed a solution to a worldwide plague.

To do this, Henley resorts to one of the techniques for writing bad articles I mentioned in a recent post – namely, citing a bunch of people who agree with the narrative he’s trying to spread, while ignoring any other voices or alternative explanations. It’s a hatchet job, pure and simple, designed to discredit both Sputnik V and the Russian Federation.

The article, in other words, is just one Russophobic comment piled up on another – Bam, bam, bam. Take that, Sputnik V! What it isn’t is fair and balanced reporting.

So it is that Henley starts us off with a statement that

Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine has yet to win EU regulatory approval and is likely to play little part in the bloc’s rollout, but it has already achieved what some observers say is one of its objectives – sowing division among, and within, member states. “Sputnik V has become a tool of soft power for Russia,” said Michal Baranowski, a fellow with a US thinktank, the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It’s planted its flag on the vaccine and the political goal of its strategy is to divide the west.”

Baranowski’s evidence for this claim? He doesn’t provide any. Of course, he doesn’t. It doesn’t exist. Has anybody associated with the Russian government or the Sputnik vaccine ever stated such an objective? No. Baranowski’s accusation is entirely speculation on his behalf.

But Henley thinks that there is some evidence, and so brings out his second quote, this time from an EU official:

“Russia’s low vaccination rate just doesn’t tally with it having a supposedly cheap, easy-to-make and effective vaccine,” one EU diplomat said. “Either Moscow’s being altruistic, which seems unlikely. Or it’s prioritising geopolitics over Russians’ needs.”

This is just BS. Total utter BS. Putting aside the idea that Russians are incapable of altruism, if Henley spent even a micro-second checking, he’d discover that a) Russia does have a ‘cheap, easy-to-make and effective vaccine’, and b) the reason for the low vaccination rate in Russia is not that Russia is ‘prioritising geopolitics over Russians’ needs’, by for instance sending vaccines abroad while not distributing them at home, but a reluctance by Russians to take the vaccine. In Moscow, for instance, the vaccine is freely available for all, and has been for some time, but only about 10% of the city has bothered getting a shot. You can walk into the GUM shopping mall any time you like and get the vaccine. I’ve read that the line-ups are minimal. People just aren’t doing it.

That means that there are some genuine criticisms that can make of the Russian government’s handling of the covid crisis. It has done a very poor PR job persuading its population of the merits of getting vaccinated. But the accusation that it is favouring geopolitics over its own people’s needs is just plain false.

Henley, however, ploughs on regardless, wheeling out his third rent-a-quote, the Prime Minister of Lithuania, telling us that:

The prime minister of Lithuania, Ingrida Šimonytė, tweeted in February that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, saw the shot not so much as a “cure for the Russian people” as “another hybrid weapon to divide and rule.”

Well, if the Prime Minister of Lithuania says it, it must be true. Right?

To make sure we’re on ball, Henley next casts some doubt on the efficacy of Sputnik-V, though deigning to cite Russian health officials rebutting such doubts. But whether Sputnik works well or not isn’t really Henley’s topic. It could be 100% effective but still a bad thing, he implies, because it’s ‘dividing’ Europe (which is obviously more important than health issues – I find the callousness of the approach at this point rather startling). Thus the article tells us:

Whether or not the EMA –[European Medical Agency] approves Sputnik V and whether or not it ever arrives in sufficient numbers, observers argue it has already done significant damage, with EU national and regional leaders leveraging it for their own political ends. In some countries, it has caused mayhem: the Slovakian prime minister, Igor Matovič, was forced to resign this month amid a bitter dispute over a secret deal to buy 2m doses despite the disagreement of many in his four-party coalition. … Sputnik has also cost the health and foreign ministers of the Czech Republic – both opposed to the shot’s deployment without EMA approval – their jobs, fired by the prime minister, Andrej Babiš …  In Germany … three states including Bavaria have either struck or are negotiating Sputnik deals.

Obviously, Moscow somehow planned this all along! As if. And in any case, so what? Everyone and his dog is saying that EU’s vaccine program has been a mess. If states seek to go around it and vaccinate their people by getting Sputnik-V, isn’t that a good thing? But no, not for Mr Henley, who returns to his original source, writing that:

For Baranowski, Sputnik’s rushed approval, online propaganda and carefully selected destinations add up to a Russian strategy that is “neither innocent nor humanitarian. It is part of exactly the same game, of dividing the west, that we see in Moscow’s use of military power, cybersecurity, energy security.”

And it’s working, he said: “It’s dividing various European actors pretty well. Until Sputnik V has EMA approval – at which stage, of course, there’s no problem: the world needs vaccines – it’s become a political litmus test for whether you are for or against the EU’s programme. That’s eroding confidence. And that’s what Putin wants.”

 Ah, yes. ‘That’s what Putin wants’. Which is odd, because he’s never said so, nor given any indication that that’s what he’s thinking. But it seems as if Mr Baranowski has a means of getting inside Putin’s head. One of those Russian ‘directed energy weapons’ redesigned for a new purpose, maybe?

This isn’t serious reporting. It’s just an unsubstantiated thesis, with the author making up for the lack of concrete evidence by throwing in a bunch of quotes from hostile witnesses. It’s hateful. Insofar as it increase vaccine scepticism and may hinder the use of what appears to be a very successful medical product, it is also harmful. By publishing this, The Guardian has plunged so deep, it’s gone even beyond the lower depths. Shame on you, Guardian. Shame.

How to Write a Bad Article about Russia

Several press articles I’ve seen in the past few days have annoyed me rather, but I think that they are useful as examples of how reporting on Russia is distorted. For they demonstrate the methods used by journalists to paint a picture of the world that is far from accurate.

The articles in question come from those bastions of balanced reporting, The New York Times and The Guardian. The first is from Sunday’s edition of the NYT, with the title ‘The Arms Dealer in the Crosshairs of Russia’s Elite Assassination Squad’. This discusses Bulgarian arms dealer Emilian Gebrev, whose weapons were destroyed in an explosion in the Czech Republic in 2014, allegedly by Russian secret agents.

The second article is also from the NYT. This one has the title ‘After Testing the World’s Limits, Putin Steps Back From the Brink,’ and analyzes what author Anton Troianovski calls Russia’s ‘escalatory approach to foreign policy’, as seen by the Russian military build up near the Ukrainian border.

The third and final piece is from The Guardian, and is about last week’s protests in support of jailed oppositionist Alexei Navalny. This is somewhat schizophrenic, on the one hand saying that the pro-Navalny movement is in trouble, but on the other hand portraying the protests as a relative success and ending on a confident note that however grim things look for the opposition now, this can change at any moment.

Anyway, as one reads these articles one notices certain techniques that are used to paint a distorted picture of reality. So if you want to be a journalist, here’s what the articles teach that you should do:

Continue reading How to Write a Bad Article about Russia