Abort, Retry, Ignore? The West’s Hate/Hate Relationship with Skolkovo

Uncle Volodya says, "My computer was attacked by the Viagra virus. It turned my floppy into a hard drive."

What is it about President Medvedev’s attempts to set up a “technology city” at Skolkovo that drives some western journalists over the edge? It seems to be more than just the typical desire – again, on the part of some sources – to see Russia fail at everything it tries; these sources seem to be trying for self-fulfilling prophesy. Let’s take a look at some of the overheated rhetoric, and see if we can figure out what’s behind it.

RFE/RL Russia’s alternately mocking and scaremongering article looks like a good place to start. Entitled, “Russia’s Silicon Valley Dreams May Threaten Cybersecurity”, the article takes a break from making fun of Medvedev’s height to advise us that Silicon Valley companies considering investment in Skolkovo “…could be indirectly helping a state many believe is leading the development of the newest global security threat: cyberwarfare”. Leaning heavily on the expertise of Seattle-based cybersecurity expert Jeffrey Carr, the author goes on to remind us that the FSB has a big interest in electronic information, and to speculate that Skolkovo is being constructed as Snoop Central. Why? Because, in the words of his cybersecurity expert, “If you’re wiring a facility….the best time to do it is while it’s being built”.

I’m going to guess that Mr. Carr was taken out of context here, because otherwise the concept is silly on so many levels that I don’t quite know where to start.  Okay, okay, I know – let’s start with the perennially stupid “Silicon Valley” comparison, because the resemblance between Skolkovo and Silicon Valley is limited to their beginning with the same letter , and hopefully the mindless echo chamber that largely makes up modern journalism will stop repeating it.

First, Silicon Valley isn’t even a real place. The phrase was coined in 1971 in Electronic News, by journalist Don Hoefler. The core of what is now Silicon Valley is actually Palo Alto. Silicon Valley was started by accident, as an initiative by Stanford University’s professor of electrical engineering to lease university land to high-tech companies as a money-maker for the university. It was going to be called “Stanford Industrial Park”. The United States government was not involved in any capacity. Hewlett-Packard originated there, as a garage workshop start-up, and other companies followed.

Skolkovo, by way of contrast, is entirely a government project, with a vision of what it will be and what it is expected to achieve before building ever commenced. Silicon Valley grew up around the development of the first microprocessor, and consisted entirely of computer industries in its infancy. Skolkovo is expected to be a great deal more diversified from the start, incorporating nanotechnology, communications, software development, biomedical research, energy and information technology. If the shoe were on the other foot, and a two-person garage workshop project outside Moscow were compared with an American or European plan to create an advanced research centre from scratch, Americans and Europeans would laugh.

This is a rock. Or is it?

But let’s go back for a moment, to that blather about “wiring the facilities” so the FSB can snoop on “every byte of Internet traffic”. Is Mr. Carr suggesting the United States government’s intelligence services do not monitor every byte of Internet traffic? I beg to differ.  And what’s all this stuff about wires? Remember Operation Roadside? In 2006, MI6 ran an operation in Russia, using Russian “assets” (they’re called “assets” when they’re working for you – when they’re working for somebody else, they’re called “traitors”) which featured a dead drop that was disguised as a rock. It was completely wireless, and intercepted and forwarded encrypted electronic messages without the users having to touch anything, or even stop as they passed by. When the FSB broke this operation, the “rock” was discovered to be powered by a Blackberry. That was four years ago. Is the implication here seriously that the FSB is wiring the buildings of Skolkovo while they’re being built, for electronic interception? Why would that be necessary? Has surveillance technology advanced no further than that, do you think? Have you unscrewed the receiver on your cellphone lately to check for bugs? Try it, why don’t you? That’s right; you can’t – it’s built into the phone. Can cellphone communications be monitored without the user’s knowledge? Most assuredly. Gee…I wonder how they do it, without wires.

But what’s most annoying is the author’s stubborn insistence that Russia is “leading the development of cyberwarfare”. Really? Does Russia have a government agency known as “Cyber Command”? Show me. The U.S. does. The whole article is chock-full of “could be’s” and “maybe so’s”, but the author has decided to blame Russia anyway. For example, he writes “…cyberattacks are often blurred…because it’s often impossible to prove who’s behind them..” Later, Mr Carr chimes in to report the discovery – following a six-month investigation – that cyberattacks against Estonian and Georgian websites originated with the Russian government, who were “distributing lists of targets to hackers”. Again, show me. The article goes on to mention that Carr dismisses the absence of direct evidence. What? A target list from the Russian government to a hacker sounds like direct evidence to me. Why weren’t any such lists produced as evidence? Other than evidence, we’re told the “size, timing and complexity” of the attack “implicated the Kremlin”. You’re kidding me, right? Western journalists seldom take a break from hammering on what a shitty, antiquated, tunnel-vision, bloated, unimaginative government model Russia has…except when something nasty is done particularly well. Then, then it must have been the Kremlin, who otherwise can’t do anything right. Since cyberwar software programs “can operate from servers outside Russia, they also provide the Kremlin with the crucial benefit of plausible deniability”. Correct. And, uh..everybody else. But we’ll blame Russia, how about? In the final paragraph, the silliness just spins out of control, and we’re informed that “China may lead the world in cyberespionage that raids Western intellectual property, but Russia leads the way in ‘being willing to take hostile action”. If that sounds a lot like “Weapons of Mass Destruction related program activities”, it’s not a coincidence. Both are something you say when you have nothing but a conviction unsupported by evidence.

Reluctantly acknowledged as it is here, China is in fact the world leader in cyberespionage. Getting better at it is even part of the latest five-year plan.  Don’t worry, though: the United States is “seen to have a comfortable lead in the virtual battlefield”. Better at cyberwarfare than the world leader, that is to say, which sort of makes you the world leader – I just wanted to make sure you got that. While ki-yiing about Russia vacuuming up information at a horrifying rate, there’s still nobody better at it than the USA.  China, though, is serious about catching up: at least one of the hackers responsible for a recent attack on the Pentagon was recruited by the PLA as a student responding to a “hacker competition”. When run to earth in Chengdu province, the cyberwarriors proved to be “a bunch of nerds” with laptops. Look, Ma – no wires. Just in case that point didn’t come through loud and clear, it is not necessary to wire a building to conduct cyber-espionage or even an attack: in fact, it would be somewhat to the right of stupidity to do that, because it would leave physical evidence that is completely unnecessary. The researchers who uncovered “Ghostnet”, a Chinese espionage Trojan email infector, suggest it “demonstrates the relative ease with which a technically unsophisticated approach can quickly be harnessed to create a very effective spynet.”

Knowing this, you’d reasonably assume the West is taking a stiffish sort of stance with China over their shenanigans. You’d be wrong.  According to AmCham, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, China is “the brightest star on the American investment horizon” and 64.5% of the companies surveyed (which included Cargill and General Motors) had plans to increase their investments in China in 2010. Apple. Ford Motors. Nike. Heinz. The Gap. Starbucks and Coca Cola view China as their top growth market. $3.6 Billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in 2009, when America was reeling in the grip of economic collapse, all of it from American companies.

But China isn’t planning to build a “technology city” so it can spy on good Americans, and increase its technical advantage over them, is it? No, not exactly. China calls them “Science Parks”. Tsinghua Science Park, for example, built in the Zuhai national high-tech zone, specializes in high-tech development, R&D and advanced business education management. “By becoming an attractive location for highly skilled domestic and foreign professionals and investing in R&D facilities, Tsinghua Science Park will grow to be a major institution for high tech innovations”, the electronic brochure confides. High tech innovations that Americans will gladly pay for, considering they’ve largely gone out of the business of making them for themselves.What do cybersecurity experts think about the risk of cyberespionage? Well, we could ask Jeffrey Carr, the expert who thinks Russia is a state that is leading the development of the newest global security threat. What do you think about Chinese cyberespionage, Jeffrey?

“People inflate fear about China, but China has no interest in attacking the U.S. They want the same things that any country would want. And they’re going about it the same way that we would go about it. We’re doing espionage. We’re looking after our interests. We’re exerting our will as a nation. It’s silly to try to take the moral high ground here. It doesn’t serve any useful purpose.”

Do tell. But let Medvedev make a statement like the electronic brochure above, substituting “Skolkovo” for “Tsinghua Science Park”, and western journalists line up to piss on his shoes.

Thankfully, not everyone feels that way. Cisco Systems is in for a Billion. Microsoft followed their lead. Siemens is in. Good luck to Skolkovo, and to Russia’s exerting its will as a nation.

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126 Responses to Abort, Retry, Ignore? The West’s Hate/Hate Relationship with Skolkovo

  1. Tim Newman says:

    The United States government was not involved in any capacity.

    Hence its success.

    Skolkovo, by way of contrast, is entirely a government project, with a vision of what it will be and what it is expected to achieve before building ever commenced.

    There’s yer problem, right there. I suspect this project will go nowhere, not because it is Russians doing it but because it is a government doing it. I remember some silliness about 20 years ago when the British government decided to develop Silicon Glen in Scotland, and I also heard about a Silicon Roundabout. Successes like Silicon Valley are dependent on the government setting up the necessary conditions (low barriers to entry, favourable tax regime, enforcement of contract law, financial transparency, etc.) and then getting well out of the way. Unfortunately, the Russians seem pretty good at not setting up the necessary conditions and trying to manufacture the outcome themselves. It rarely works, in Russia or anywhere else.

    That’s right; you can’t – it’s built into the phone.

    That’s right. A friend of mine works providing security for a rather wealthy and prominent Russian gentleman, and one of the things he has to safeguard against is a hacked phone. Apparently, it is possible to spend ten minutes fiddling with it and thereafter you are able to activate it by text, switch it to act as a listening device, automatically copy all sent and received texts and calls to you, etc. all whilst displaying nothing out of the ordinary on the phone. I think it’s all just a matter of clever programming which overides the manufacturer’s settings.

    • kovane says:

      “Hence its success.”

      Been reading a lot of Adam Smith lately? The success of the so-called Silicon Valley wasn’t the matter of the government involvement. It was because the US was at the cutting edge of information technologies at the time, and they turned out to be the next big thing. Alas, Russia doesn’t have any of this advantage in the fields of biomedical research, nanotechnology, etc. But the success can be attained by prudently combining the resources of the state and the efficiency of the private sector, something China has already proved to be possible. Although you’re correct about the importance of creating a healthy business environment.

      • Tim Newman says:

        The success of the so-called Silicon Valley wasn’t the matter of the government involvement.

        Correct. But had the government decided to get involved, it would likely have been strangled to death at birth.

        But the success can be attained by prudently combining the resources of the state and the efficiency of the private sector, something China has already proved to be possible.

        I think the jury’s still out on that one. It seems to have been working so far, but I’d be interested to see if the small and medium-sized businesses – crucial to any economy – flourish in China. From what I can gather, businesses there are either the size of small countries or are street stalls, with the former being granted license by the government to operate rather than be the product of organic growth from small, innovative companies. The stunning success of Silicon Valley was the ability for companies to take the path from small start-up to corporate giant; in China, corporate giants start out as corporate giants on license from the government. I’m not sure if this model is sustainable.

        • kovane says:

          “Correct. But had the government decided to get involved, it would likely have been strangled to death at birth.”

          And this statement is based on what? When today industry giants, like Microsoft or Apple, were taking their first steps, they had it all: technology, a lot of educated specialists to choose from, and companies and public willing to pay serious money for their products. And, most importantly, no competition at all. What exactly could the government strangle there?

          I agree that probably a government-run Microsoft would be a disaster, and state-owned start-ups are rare things to find, but that’s not the objective of Skolkovo, as far as I know it. The Russian government aims to create a successful environment for private companies there: a developed infrastructure, a favourable tax and administrative regime and an easy access to investment resources. The only thing the government itself will actually conduct is research, but that’s common in many countries, including USA and UK.

          • Tim Newman says:

            And this statement is based on what?

            The general failure of governments picking winners. Look at the UK car industry, for example, or the UK film industry.

          • Tim Newman says:

            What exactly could the government strangle there?

            Innovation and quick decision making, to name two. Government projects require bureaucracy, signatures, approvals, and committees to run. Similarly, companies receiving government funds need the same. It is doubtful that the Silicon Valley companies could have shown the innovation and decisiveness that made them successful if they’d needed government approval along the way.

            • kovane says:

              “The general failure of governments picking winners.”

              Well, the latest 10 years definitely showed that poor decision-making isn’t the prerogative of state-owned companies only. Such great success stories as Enron, Worldcom, GM and AIG cast doubt on the near commandment-like postulate about more efficient private corporations. But a film-making or car company run by the government is certainly a ludicrous idea.

              “Innovation and quick decision making, to name two. Government projects require bureaucracy, signatures, approvals, and committees to run.”

              That simply isn’t true. There are many options how a joint enterprise between the government and private capital can be managed. For example, a state purpose loan doesn’t encroach on the freedom and speed of decision-making very much, don’t you agree?

              From your blog, I gather that you’re rather well-informed about the oil industry. What’s your opinion on Sinopec and PetroChina – they are state-owned companies?

        • marknesop says:

          You’re certainly right to question if such a business model is sustainable, but the Chinese obviously think it is, and they’re not bothered about what’s in the rearview mirror. Small and medium-sized businesses are indeed the country’s cushion against catastrophic economic failure, but for today, it would take nothing short of catastrophe to stop China. Many of its western investors are corporate giants in their own right, and I have to assume they exercised due diligence and arrived at the conclusion there were significant profits to be realized before taking the plunge. The Chinese middle class is emerging in a very nontraditional way, but it is emerging nonetheless, and should create its own markets and support.

          • Tim Newman says:

            The Chinese middle class is emerging in a very nontraditional way, but it is emerging nonetheless, and should create its own markets and support.

            I agree with this, but I think the emergence of a Middle Class in China will fundamentally change the country in a way which will make the discussions of 2010 moot.

            • marknesop says:

              It seems to me that China now is where Japan was 40 or so years ago, when the yen was kicking the bejesus out of the dollar and every Japanese confronted with a decision or an opportunity first asked himself, “What’s in it for Japan?” rather than, “What’s in it for me?” If an emerging middle class continues to ask itself, “What’s in it for China?”, the country will continue to progress in defiance of western norms. Whether it can do that, of course, is the big question, because an increase in consumerism seems to kick-start that “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

              Chinese immigrants may provide a clue as to their resolve. It’s common here for arriving Chinese immigrants to purchase a small business, like a restaurant or a small gorcery. They then sacrifice their own generation by working themselves nearly to death and through creative mark-ups on goods based on what you’ll pay for convenience, all of which goes to the education and upward mobility of the follow-on generation. These are expected to sacrifice in their turn so that their children will be doctors, lawyers, high-tech programmers or researchers. A much higher number of foreign students from China now return to China after completing their education, rather than seeking work here.

    • golov says:

      Tim, as Skolkovo’s president Mr Vekselberg put it “Skolkovo is a private sector project with government support”. He also outlined the Skolkovo Fund’s constitution, which states that the Fund must ensure maximum private sector involvement and stimulate a competitive environment
      http://i-russia.ru/all/articles/2120/

      • marknesop says:

        I really think Medvedev is trying hard to make this a success. I wasn’t aware Skolkovo had such an organization outside the government – that’s very interesting. A lot of media sources will be watching it like vultures for the first crack, the first scam, the first sign of weakness, so they can screech, “See!! We told you so!!” I’m sure it won’t be trouble-free, but it would be a good chance for Russia to show it can make something work without endless layers of bureaucracy.

  2. James says:

    Hi ya marknesop, I’m also interested in this. (Please see the most recent article on my blog.) Your article is a great read; you’ve most certainly given me lots of food for thought.

  3. Yalensis says:

    Mark, thanks for very informative post!

  4. marknesop says:

    @Tim Newman – thanks for stopping by, and welcome! I’m sorry to hear you’re not enjoying Nigeria, at least thus far, but you’re doing yeoman service by making comedy of your misery. What’s traditional food in Nigeria? I’m fond of cooking, and have never been there. Nothing particularly fattening, by the sound of it.

    I’m glad you brought up your recommendations for a government startup, because so far as I could determine, the Russian government is doing all of them. Tax holidays for up to 10 years (VAT, Real Estate and Property taxes), reduced monthly insurance rate for employees, possibility of co-financing from the state budget, rent at cost, simplified visa processing, tariff incentives either through exemptions or subsidies.

    As Kovane alluded earlier, government-controlled enterprise can work: the Tsinghua Science Park, others of its type and in fact the entire Zhuhai high-tech zone are government projects with an international vision, but ultimately created for the benefit of China and her interests, both domestic and foreign. It’s simply a matter of national will. If the country doesn’t have the will to see it through, it probably deserves to fail. But you don’t see western media going out of its way to make the Chinese effort fail. That’s probably because the west is heavily invested in China’s success. When that’s true of Russia as well, perhaps the snickering and heckling will die down.

    • Tim Newman says:

      @Tim Newman – thanks for stopping by, and welcome! I’m sorry to hear you’re not enjoying Nigeria, at least thus far, but you’re doing yeoman service by making comedy of your misery.

      It’s that or go bananas!🙂

      What’s traditional food in Nigeria? I’m fond of cooking, and have never been there. Nothing particularly fattening, by the sound of it.

      Hmm. Plantains are the main vegetable, the main carbohydrate seems to be yams or some sort of whey porridge, and the proteins are chicken, goat, and fish in a curry sauce which looks as though it could dissolve metal. The spices here are to be avoided. I avoid the whole lot, tbh.

      I’m glad you brought up your recommendations for a government startup, because so far as I could determine, the Russian government is doing all of them. Tax holidays for up to 10 years (VAT, Real Estate and Property taxes), reduced monthly insurance rate for employees, possibility of co-financing from the state budget, rent at cost, simplified visa processing, tariff incentives either through exemptions or subsidies.

      This is similar to what Dubai did in internet city, with some success. If Russia does the same then it could work – after all, these companies would certainly want access to the Russian markets – but it would be far better if Russia just did some of these things anyway on a nationwide basis. I’ve run a business in Russia, and also been involved with the approvals of construction projects, and I’m not surprised that only mega-corporations will dip their toe in the water. The bureacracy and obstacles are mind-boggling. See here for example.

      As Kovane alluded earlier, government-controlled enterprise can work: the Tsinghua Science Park, others of its type and in fact the entire Zhuhai high-tech zone are government projects with an international vision, but ultimately created for the benefit of China and her interests, both domestic and foreign.

      Yes, but I’m not entirely convinced this is sustainable, as I get the impression it is mere state planning instead of natural organic growth. In his book Eat the Rich, PJ O’Rourke went to China and found that Pudong, one of the enormous business parks in Shanghai was full of mega-towers each with an international corporate brand on. Very impressive, until he found out that the Chinese passed a law saying any company muust have an office in Pudong if it wanted to do domestic currency business. I’m sure this sort of top-down capitalism will have some success (indeed it already has), but I’m not convinced it will do better in the medium or long term than the bottom-up capitalism upon which the US was built (and sadly, seems to be abandoning in favour of a top-down approach).

      • marknesop says:

        The periods of stasis punctuated by frantic jumping around certainly sound an unhealthy way to get anything done business-wise. Perhaps that’s to set the stage for bribery, to get things moving. I found Russian law alarmingly complicated, but stunningly easy to circumvent as well. Getting married, for example. The law said we had to publish our intent to marry, to allow the possibility that someone might contest it (similar to publishing the banns in traditional Catholicism), for 30 days in advance of the wedding date. You can’t stay longer than 30 days on a Visitor’s Visa, so it would have been impossible. I was crushed; what the hell were we going to do? Simple, said the bride-to-be. There is an exception and the waiting period is waived if the bride is in the family way, so certified by a doctor. What doctor is going to do that if you’re not pregnant, right? I question whether it would ever happen here, but there we had two such certificates within a couple of days. I think it cost us a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers, something like that – offered as a gift, but I suppose technically it was a bribe.

        Plenty of Russian high-tech types work in the west, and I imagine at least some of them return to Russia. I wonder why they don’t complain that the Russian business model is hurting investment? At the same time, you don’t want to deregulate too much, or before you know it your entire business community is foreign-owned, with the expected political clout that would have.

        I’m sure Russia is looking to leap over decades of doing things the wrong way with the Skokovo project, and I’m also sure they expect the greater part of any benefits that acrue will be to Russia’s advantage. They must realize at the same time that foreign companies won’t stay if they don’t make money. This would be a great opportunity to break with the inefficiencies of the past, while keeping enough safeguards in place to disallow takeover.

        • Tim Newman says:

          Perhaps that’s to set the stage for bribery, to get things moving. I found Russian law alarmingly complicated, but stunningly easy to circumvent as well.

          I found the authorities harder to bribe, they wanted vast sums of money (usually indirectly), and resulted in months of delays. It cost us $40m and 3 years to build a 100 room accommodation building, which in the west would have cost about $10m and taken a year at the most. If this example is typical, it means that every $4 spent in Russia buys you $1 worth of building compared to western Europe. Russia is going to find it awfully hard to match western Europe’s standard of living if it doesn’t make the money go much further.

          At the same time, you don’t want to deregulate too much, or before you know it your entire business community is foreign-owned, with the expected political clout that would have.

          I don’t have a problem with that, as I don’t think businesses should be run for the purposes of achieving or maintaining political clout. In the UK the restrictions on foreigners buying companies are extremely low and huge swathes of our industry is foreign owned, but I don’t think this has had the slightest effect on our political standing, and from an economic point of view has largely been pretty good. The problem with governments deciding which businesses can be owned by foreigners is that in the end, a lot of business is carried out only with the blessing of the government, and the point I was trying to make on here is that this makes quick decision-making and innovation much harder (not to mention the annoyance of having the government interfere in your business, which inevitably happens).

          I think Russia’s efforts to ensure that what it considers to be key businesses remain out of the control of foreigners will seriously hamper its efforts to realise its vast potential. It’s oil and gas industry is suffering badly from this, and I’m sure other businesses are as well.

          • marknesop says:

            That’s certainly an interesting perspective, and I hope Mr. Medvedev is paying attention. After all, he used to be CEO of the world’s most profitable company (in 2010). Russia certainly does have some antiquated ideas about business practices, and it seems to still have some antiquated ideas about the west as well. It came up in an earlier discussion that Russians engaged in conversation had an inflated notion of the average standard of living in the west, and perhaps that also crosses over to the view that western corporations have bottomless pockets. Practically speaking, they have, but they generally won’t pour money into a venture that they can forecast will be a net loss.

            I don’t have a problem with foreign-owned business, either, provided its profits somehow benefit the host country rather than the nation of their origin. Wal-Mart is a good example; it’s huge here, but so far as I know, its profits go straight to the parent company in the USA. There is local employment, and probably business rent for the space, but I believe that’s it. In return, they starve out smaller competitors who can’t match their prices.

            Still, I must admit pride in Canadian ventures in the USA, and there are a good deal of them. At one time the CEO of Air Canada was an American while the CEO of American Airlines was a Canadian, and overall the cross-border trade has been good for our economy. Something like 85% of our trade is with the USA, and we are their largest foreign energy supplier.

            Russia has a chance to simultaneously get this right, and to introduce a general modification of its business practices that will result in an improved investment climate. Against this will be native suspicion that they are being tsaken advantage of by western sharpies, and there’s certainly some basis for that as well. It will be difficult to overcome, but I wish them success.

            • Tim Newman says:

              There is local employment, and probably business rent for the space, but I believe that’s it.

              Yes, but that is a hell of a lot. Employing people, paying their salaries, engaging local supply chains, logistic companies, etc. amounts to far more than the profits. Plus, the profits are taxed. The profits of Sakhalin energy were split between the Russian government and the constortium under the PSA, but even if the profits were spent on a night in Vegas, the benefit to Sakhalin of having the company and operations there make the loss insignificant.

              In return, they starve out smaller competitors who can’t match their prices.

              I think this is a good thing: customers get cheaper products. I wish there had been a Wal-Mart on Sakhalin!

            • Tim Newman says:

              That’s certainly an interesting perspective, and I hope Mr. Medvedev is paying attention. After all, he used to be CEO of the world’s most profitable company (in 2010).

              Are you thinking of Alexei Medvedev?

  5. marknesop says:

    I’ve seen you express that sentiment elsewhere, AJ. I believe the record of Russian invention and improvement on existing design suggests otherwise. Besides, the west is always screeching about what an autocratic leader Putin is (even though he’s not the President). Is that what you mean by a “strong leader”?

    I think the only threats to Skolkovo’s success are greed and corruption. In the past, Russia has run scams like luring in a foreign partner, letting them pay for all the R&D and then applying for nationalization of the company or venture. This provides short-term profit and probably plenty of laughs, but it is the kiss of death to FDI. If majority shareholders can restrain themselves from robbing Skolkovo before it can properly take hold, I think it’ll work. However, if there’s any hint of corruption or theft, you’ll hear about it posthaste, because western journalists will be watching for it.

  6. Leos Tomicek says:

    Russians are uncreative and lack risk-taking attitude? They like ‘strong leader’? How did you manage to link these two?

  7. Tim Newman says:

    Well, the latest 10 years definitely showed that poor decision-making isn’t the prerogative of state-owned companies only.

    No, but the feedback mechanism in the private sector usually means the failures go bankrupt quickly (unless bailed out by governments), installing their better competition, or even not being replaced if their idea was not sound. This rarely happens in government-backed programmes until millions or sometimes billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent.

    That simply isn’t true.

    In my experience it is. I’ve worked on several projects, almost all of which required government approval, some of which required the government to approve the budget, and some of which were run by the government. I have yet to deal with a governmental body which did not require mountains of paperwork to be submitted, endless iterations and clarifications, several people to deal with all at once all with conflicting priorities, and months of waiting. Maybe it’s different outside the oil industry, but from what others tell me, it isn’t.

    There are many options how a joint enterprise between the government and private capital can be managed.

    I’d be interested to hear of some. The Private Financne Initiative schemes in the UK look to be turning out to be an expensive disaster.

    For example, a state purpose loan doesn’t encroach on the freedom and speed of decision-making very much, don’t you agree?

    I’m not sure what you mean by a state-purpose loan, but – again in my experience – if you have to get any governmental or state body to approve funding then you can find yourself waiting around for months on end and when it does come, it comes with a whole load of strings attached. Just to cite one example (and I can cite a lot) the international funding of the Sakhalin II project came with a requirement that the Pacific Grey Whales be monitored (something which was a good thing IMO; Gazprom wanted to get rid of this requirement when they took over, the lenders said “Nay” and my mate had a job for another year). And another: when I worked on a project in Kuwait for the national oil company, the requirement was that we all flew Kuwait Airways. Hence we found ourselves stuck on the tarmac a few times whilst some sheikh or other finished his tea and called the airport telling the plane to wait up.

    If you want quick decisions and innovativeness, you stay well clear of governments (or oil companies for that matter), at least in my experience.

    What’s your opinion on Sinopec and PetroChina – they are state-owned companies?

    I’ve never worked with them, so I don’t know. Although the chap who sits behind me works for CNOOC, who is a partner on my project, so maybe I’ll find out soon.🙂 But in my experience, state-run oil companies are pretty poor on most measures (I’ve worked with 4 or 5 of them, and have worked for 3 supermajors so I have some idea of comparison).

    • kovane says:

      “No, but the feedback mechanism in the private sector usually means the failures go bankrupt quickly”

      Yes, this is a textbook definition, and it works perfectly with small or medium-sized businesses. But with large corporations, when the ownership is diffused, it can take years and years before inefficiency will result in the change of the management team and restructuring. But you’re right, the government should be much more cautious about participating in the economy, because there’s always no shortage of those who would love to feast on taxpayers’ money.

      “Maybe it’s different outside the oil industry, but from what others tell me, it isn’t.”

      Nope, it’s quite tolerable, for example, in the agriculture. But again, maybe I’m more used to Russian bureaucracy, and you’re comparing it to Britain’s. On the whole, the state of regulations is appalling indeed and the number one priority to be reformed.

      The oil industry in Russia is one of the most bureaucratized sectors of the economy, so I understand your plight.

      “I’d be interested to hear of some”

      Well, there are many: loans, subsidies, special tax regimes, coinvestment schemes, contractors. Of course, they are not without shortcomings, but sometimes the government’s participation is the lesser evil.

      It’s a pity that you don’t know much about Chinese oil companies, I would like to learn about them more.

  8. carpenter117 says:

    I knew it, AJ! You are “La Russophobe” double-agent, sent here to sabotage discussions!

    PS. Oh, nearly forgot:
    Western Ukranians are a bunch of racist chauvinistic inept backward assholes, glad to suck Western… private parts. They are uncomfortable with change too.

    • marknesop says:

      AJ has asked me to remind you that he is human, and has feelings too.

      • Yalensis says:

        In that case, why did he hurt YOUR feelings by calling you “creepy” on Nils’ blog? Never mind, it gave me a good laugh at the time, and that’s the important thing!

        • marknesop says:

          What!!!??? I didn’t see that!!!

          • Yalensis says:

            Mark, are you sure you didn’t see it? OMG, maybe somebody was posing as you. Here is the exchange:
            You begin with the following:
            (Marknesop November 14, 2:35 am)
            1. Stop trolling, AJ, and come home. You know better; you just like arguing. Skolkovo will succeed because it isn’t the same as Silicon Valley … (etc.)

            AJ responds:
            (AJ, November 14, 7:31 am)
            2. Also, this is like the 3rd time you followed me to another blog, your so creepy! Dont you know how young I am, you pervert! Why do you have a crush on me, please leave me alone, you Canadian Eskimo.

            And then I come to your defense with my witty rejoinder:
            (Yalensis, November 14, 12:22 pm)
            3. To troll AJ: Ha ha, I followed you too! Two can play at this trolling game. I don’t believe you when you say you are sitting in your own apartment fearing Mark’s improper advances, you tender young thing! …

            After which, my conscience got to me, and I apologized to Nils for trolling/feuding on his blog!

            • marknesop says:

              Oh, I’ve seen it since you alerted me; yes, the first comment was mine, but I didn’t see AJ’s follow-up. Gee – you always hurt the ones you love. The little rascal. No supper for you, AJ – straight to bed!

  9. Pingback: White Sun of the Desert » Doing Business in Russia – Part 3

  10. Yalensis says:

    Hey, Mark, you hit the bigtime: I just noticed that your article was picked for translation by INOSMI:
    http://www.inosmi.ru/economic/20101116/164280915.html
    I read the comments, some of which are downright lame; the commentors are not as good as you usually see on INOSMI. Also, they didn’t get the joke about “Kremlin Stooge” and some commentors think you actually are a Kremlin stooge. Pathetic barbarians!

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, thanks! We’ve had a good week – “Will The Real Russian Foreign Policy Please Stand Up?” was picked up by inoSMI as well. That should be 7 articles in all since I started, which I think is not bad. I don’t know who does their translations, but some things are either not quite right or simply don’t translate well to Russian. I thought about getting my wife to do translations for me and offer everything in both languages, but it’s too much work for her, and inoSMI is probably the better judge of what will be interesting to Russians anyway.

      I don’t usually pay much attention to the comments, considering the translation usually isn’t exact. You also can’t expect Russian commenters to all read English well enough to get the explanation of where the titlle comes from. But a hit from inoSMI really punches up your page views.

      • Yalensis says:

        Just curious: Does INOSMI ask your permission to translate your content, or do they just go for it?

        • marknesop says:

          No, they never have; I didn’t really know who they were, but they picked up a piece on Georgia and Saakashvili (Throbbing, Turbocharged Success), and when I went to my blog in the morning I thought there must be something wrong with the stats counter. That’s before WordPress changed it to the bar-graph format it is now, it was a simple line graph, and it was already straight up at over 600 hits at around 8:00 AM. I had been getting maybe 100 on a reasonably good day. That one went over 1000, and I’ve had two more 1000-plus days since, all based on inoSMI translations, so they must have a pretty good readership. I always ask for permission before doing a translation (I say “always”, although I’ve only actually done one – Alex Latsa’s “On the Politics of Russia”), but I’m quite happy to have them pick up posts from here. I don’t consider anything I write to be particularly philosophical (although the comments often are), and if it weren’t for journalists and La Russophobe, I’d have nothing much to write about anyway.

          • Yalensis says:

            I personally love INOSMI. It’s like my bible, I read it religiously every day, and have been doing so for years. It was through INOSMI that I discovered the anglophone blogosphere, starting with Adomanis, and then onto your blog and Anatoly’s. INOSMI has provided invaluable service for Russian-speaking readers, to get access to many western sources that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to read, and thus became firmly innoculated against western propaganda. Plus, the comments section is usually excellent, although was disappointing on this occasion.

      • Misha says:

        Congrats again Mark and a WTF!? to one venue which suggestively belittled the comments below your post on Russian foreign policy.

        That discussion is comparatively more informative than some of the trolling recently done at the venue which suggestively belittled the comments below your post on Russian foreign policy.

    • Eugen Simon says:

      To Yalensis: Lack of humor is never good. Hope you didn’t translate those comments with GoogleTranslate, redneck🙂

      To marknesop: Thanks for the article. Greetings to your wife.

  11. Misha says:

    Some interesting philosophical issues at play at this thread.

    The straight libertarian laissez faire approach to development has pitfalls. If I’m not mistaken, the late Milton Friedman suggested that a positive Russian government intervention was required to reverse the negative trends developed in the few years following the Soviet Union’s demise.

    So-called “government red tape” can serve to enhance the likelihood of a better product. If improperly utilized, it can hinder.

    On the kind of sink or swim approach suggested in some quarters, this article might be of interest:

    http://counterpunch.org/macaray11152010.html

  12. russiawatching says:

    There we go again. That standard texbook thingy “private companies are better than state-owned” thingy. Let me think, let me think didn’t another person told me that as well… let me think again. A yes! Anatoly Chubais and Egor Gajdar! oh boy did their privatization went well in Russia.

    I can hold a big argument on why it did went wrong as the problem is manifold. I would say that, what the economists did in Russia was opening a book called “Economics, the basics” and then went on and did everything from this book. But people, and I know it is a cliche, many things that seem quite reasonable from an economic perspective DID NOT work in Russia.

    Skolkovo can fail ofcourse, but let’s not judge it beforehand. The practise is nowadays that the diversification of the Russian economy continues anyways as the share of energy in the Russian economy has been decreasing every year since 2000.

    Question I do want to pose is whether a government should be concerned with this kind of interventionism at all. I mean, the government is really rich, why not use this money to decrease taxes for middle and small size companies?

    What I do like is Medvedev’s new project of redrawing Russia’s map, implications can be huge. Hell, even the we-only-say-what-the-CIA-tells-us Radio Free Europe has not decided upon this issue yet. http://www.rferl.org/content/Is_Medvedev_About_To_Redraw_Russias_Map/2222035.html

    • Misha says:

      Reminded of a lengthy front page NYT article after Khodor’s arrest on his plan to sell YUKOS off to foreign interests, as he concentrated on political activity in Russia.

    • Tim Newman says:

      I would say that, what the economists did in Russia was opening a book called “Economics, the basics” and then went on and did everything from this book.

      Yes, but they never quite understood that before you open that book you need the rule of law, property rights, and an independent judiciary.

  13. Netsend says:

    If I take it rightly, you wrong speaking that Russians is “lack creativnes”. If compares average Canadian and Russian especially at the household level that Russians will be much more creativnes : )

  14. Leos Tomicek says:

    You mean like the Chinese?🙂

  15. Leos Tomicek says:

    Please link this for my own personal use.😉

  16. Misha says:

    The “how to…” factor for Russia and for that matter Ukraine and some other parts of the FSU should consider the leanings of some of the folks offering criticisms.

    It’s not a simple matter of the authorities and others in these countries not seeing a need to change. Rather, the problem pertains to the manner of instituting change. Change for the sake of change can lead to continued, if not increased problems. By no means is this issue exclusive to Russia. In the US, voting procedures were recently changed in some key areas. Many voters feel that some of the changes have the appearance of increased bureaucracy, subject to a continued margin of error. For now: offhand, I put this particular in a remains to be firmly established category.

    In recent times, there has been increased criticism of the direction of Ukrainian media and historical overview since Yanukovych assumed the presidency. Note who leads the pack in making these criticisms.

    Admiring the likes of Marko Attila Hoare, P.J. O’Rourke and Oliver Kamm doesn’t suggest a positive and relatively objective perspective on Russia. For example: at RFE/RL, O’Rourke gave an interview where he gave an unspecified bashing of media and blogs at large. Shortly thereafter, he lauded RFE/RL at its venue. There’re numerous examples of Hoare offering a double standardized approach to analyzing Russia relative to others. Kamm is much the same as well.

    In short, Russia has reason to proceed cautiously.

  17. Misha says:

    With the US having over double the population, while not being so small in land mass itself.

    • Misha says:

      “With the US having over double the population, while not being so small in land mass itself.”

      *****

      Hmmm?

      At present: for whatever reason the above comments were bumped away from a comparison of the US having more states than the number of Russian republics.

      Also at present, the number of listed comments (49) has decreased from what it was (55).

  18. AJ says:

    Yes, I believe Mark is censoring me. He deleted my comments and my link going to a Ukrainian-Russian website that showed that over 60% of Ukrainians are in favor of joining the Union State.

    • marknesop says:

      I’m not censoring you, AJ. Censoring you would be taking out words from your post, or changing what you said to something like, “You’re so wise, Mark; I agree completely”. I could certainly do that, but I haven’t. Neither am I “following you around” to other blogs – what is more likely is that you are systematically going through the ones listed on my blogroll. I have been commenting on Julia Ioffe’s work since she was with True/Slant, and I’ve never seen you there. You flatter y’self, m’lord.

      Regardless what you say about not being a racist, you rely on racist material for substantiation, and regularly introduce race-baiting comments as a means of derailing the discussion. “The Color of Crime”, not to be confused with the respected and detailed study of the same name, is a pamphlet by an individual human-rights organizations describe as a white supremacist, and it draws bizarre conclusions that have no basis in reality. If blacks are responsible for a high percentage of the crime in a given area, it assures us, police are perfectly right to pull over any black who is driving, just to see if he’s up to something. Police have no right at all to pull over someone who is doing nothing wrong, and the criteria cited in “The Color of Crime” does not meet the guidelines for probable cause. If the vast majority of drunken drivers in America are white males (and they are), would the police be acting correctly if they stopped every white male they observed behind the wheel and ordered him to submit to a breathalyzer?

      But “The Color of Crime” doesn’t bother with facts – it simply cites conclusions as if they were established fact, and people with preconceived notions about race cite them as if they were just that. You popped off about Slavs being less intelligent than Western Europeans, citing the work of Professor Lynn – which says nothing of the kind, and rates the intelligence of both Slavs and Europeans as higher than North Americans. Still you dance around on other blogs and crow about having “pwned” me, when you have yourself been wrong. You just breeze right past it as if it never happened, and credit yourself with victory. But I don’t care about that. People see through you.

      No, none of those are the reason you’re gone. You’re gone because you’re not who you say you are. You were born in the Soviet Union, but you’re 19 and the Soviet Union collapsed 19 years ago. Okay, you could marginally be telling the truth about that – technically – although you’d have had to leave when you were a couple of months old. That hardly qualifies you to comment with authority on Soviet practices when you’re talking with people who actually were born and lived in the Soviet Union, and still live in what it’s become. But never mind that, either: I’m interested in how you could live in a majority-Mexican town where “many of them even dont speak English” as recently as October 29th, but on November 13th you live in Northern Illinois, an hour’s drive from Chicago. You claimed the first here, and the second on Julia Ioffe’s blog – you’d already know this, except my comment is still awaiting moderation. Care to tell me what majority-Mexican town containing many who don’t speak English lies an hour’s drive from Chicago? La Savannah, perhaps? Los Galenas? Looking for the shovel, amigo?

      I’m very disappointed in you, AJ. This hurts me more than it does you. You are plainly here simply to cause a disturbance, although once in awhile you do provide something accurate, such as the 60% of Ukrainians being in favour of a union with Russia. Canadians spell “favour” with a “u”, by the way. I suspect your purpose here is just to make such an obnoxious ass of yourself that you will be banned , so that you can squall that this blog is just like all the others. Well, good for you – it is. Adios, Au Revoir, Auf Wiedersehn, AJ. Hasta La Biscuit, muchacho. You’re not banned, because I can’t be bothered. But every post I see by you, I’ll delete. You may get it up there for a few hours, while I’m sleeping or not paying attention. But as soon as I see it, it’s kicked to the curb. Meanwhile, I doubt you’ll get any of the other commenters to play your race-baiting game; they all pretty much ignore you now.

      • Misha says:

        Reminded a bit of the scene in Enemy at the Gates (a movie with some issues), when the German officer/sniper character played by Ed Harris expresses annoyance with young Sasha for not following the former’s advice – instead choosing to double deal.

        • Yalensis says:

          Yes, and we all remember what happened to little Sasha after that!
          That was a great movie, by the way, Misha. I was very leery at first watching a western-made movie about Stalingrad, because western filmmakers usually surreptiously sneak in some sympathy for the Nazis. These are, after all, “cultivated” Europeans fighting against subhuman russian bolsheviks. So I glumly assumed while watching that they would give the Nazi officer some redeeming sympathetic quality in the end. To my pleasant surprise, they didn’t do that, and the movie was unequivocally pro-Russian, while not pulling any punches about stalinist abuses and unpreparedness of army. I also loved the Rachel Weisz character, very beautiful girl and great sex sceen between her and Jude Law. Also learned a lot about snipers and their craft. Sorry, didn’t mean to turn Mark’s blog into movie review. But it WAS about Russian history, after all.

          • Misha says:

            Yalensis, as you might know that movie had its sore points in Russia and elsewhere, with some of the criticism appearing valid:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enemy_at_the_Gates#Criticism

            I’m using this Wiki link for quick reference sake on the basis of it jiving with what I’ve seen and heard elsewhere.
            😉

            Movies on historical instances are prone to adding things. The American movie Patton with George Scott is one of many examples.

            I’ve yet to see the Russian movie Admiral on Alexander Kolchak. I’m aware of some negative commentary about it. On the other hand, consider the extreme of overly negative caricatures of the Whites.

            Watch with caution. That goes for historical documentaries as well. I try to make it a point of understanding as much as possible the conflicting views on a given historical issue.

            • marknesop says:

              I followed the link, and noted in “Trivia” that the sequences I enjoyed so much in the beginning of the movie – crossing the Volga under heavy fire – are lifted almost scene-for-scene from an earlier version of the video game “Call of Duty”. The things you learn, I swear. I suppose I might have known that if I were a gamer, but I’m not. Whoever put those scenes together is brilliant.

              • Tim Newman says:

                I don’t think Wikipedia’s got that right. The first Call of Duty came out in 2003 (I played that scene); Enemy at the Gates came out in 2001.

                • marknesop says:

                  You’re probably right; I’m not a gamer at all. But the lead-in graphics to quite a lot of games and even some of the flight simulators are incredible now, like mini-films in their own right.

            • Yalensis says:

              Thanks, Misha, good point, and criticisms are valid. I just happen to like movie anyway, maybe because girl is so sexy. Also because brought Zaitsev some well-deserved recognition, even if writers did take creative liberties with facts. I haven’t seen Admiral Kolchak movie. I admit I am somewhat dogmatic on this issue: I think Kolchak was traitor British-agent scum, therefore I refuse to watch movie portraying him in sympathetic light!

              • Misha says:

                Yeah, I think that’s dogmatic Yalensis.

                This is an apparent point of disagreement between us.

                A few choice words can be thrown at the Bolshes on the matter of being foreign agents and willing sellouts of Russian interests.

                On the Whites, the Brits were of two minds, with the Lloyd George view winning out over Churchill’s. The latter was motivated by an ideological opposition, whereas the former saw the Whites as people seeking a strong Russia, which would eventually challenge Brit interests.

                I’m so glad to see evidence of a more positive outlook of the Whites in Russia. I’ve yet to see Mikhalkov’s documentary on the Whites.

                • Yalensis says:

                  Yes, this is just one of those issues that people will never agree on, and no point in re-fighting the Russian Revolution. I will just limit myself to one comment, which is that neither side was fighting for “Russia” per se, nor should they have been. Lenin was always very honest about the fact that he didn’t give a damn about “Russia”, he was on the side of the proletariat, regardless of country. The “Whites” were less honest, they pretended to be fighting for “Russia”, but they too were fighting for the interests of their class and their dynasty, and to that end they allied with anyone, be it Czechs, Japanese, Americans, Germans, Brits, or whomever. I don’t necessarily blame fault for that; like I said, they were fighting for the interests of their class, and in wartime you do what you have to do. In the end, Kolchak was betrayed by his Czech allies, he was hanged and his body tossed in the river. So he was a colossal failure. Whereas the government that Lenin build lasted for 70 years and turned Russia into a super-power.

                • Misha says:

                  Prior to posting, I’m not sure where this set of comments will appear. It’s in reply to Yalensis’ response to my reply to his comments on the Whites.

                  I agree about not re-fighting the Russian Civil War over again.

                  The USSR historical run wasn’t so long and had its flaws for sure. This last point partly relates to its demise.

                  Russian achievements are by no means the sole result of the Soviet period.

                  It’s difficult to find complete virtue with many sides in a given conflict.

                  The Whites had definite flaws within their ranks. It’s inaccurate to overlook other attributes about them. This last point relates to the respect accorded to Denikin’s reburial in Russia a few years ago. Putin and Luzkhkov were among the Russian dignitaries honoring that occurrence.

                  Somewhat related to this discussion is my opposition to commentary on Russia/Russian Empire/Soviet Union that consists solely of neocons, neolibs, flat out Russia haters and politically left of center Russophiles.

          • marknesop says:

            I really liked the movie, too, although I didn’t really watch it for historical accuracy – except for occasional Republican policymakers who are fond of quoting Jack Bauer on “24” as if he were (a) real and (b) acting within the law, who does that? Movies that plainly have an emphasis on entertainment, anyway. No, I thought the opening battle scenes, where they’re crossing the river by boat under heavy bombardment and air attack, were cinematic sensory overload that was beautifully done, at least as good as “Saving Private Ryan”. I would have remembered the film positively for that alone, even if the rest of it was inaccurate dreck. The stark devastation of the city was magnificently done as well. In my experience, a movie interpretation of any significant historical event or character is always subjective, and you could always find someone who claims it is wildly inaccurate based on their personal knowledge of conflicting events. The female-sniper thing intrigued me, though – to my knowledge (which is admittedly far from comprehensive), only the Vietnamese used women in this capacity, except for the Soviets. This was dramatized somewhat in “Full Metal Jacket”.

            • Misha says:

              Full Metal Jacket was one of these movies with two noticeable parts. In the instance of that movie, the boot camp period ended with a sharp change to fighting Charlie in Southeast Asia.

              • marknesop says:

                Yes, but the point I intended to make is it’s the only other movie I’ve ever seen (and I am not a movie junkie, so there may have been others) that featured women in the sniper role. Apparently the Russian female snipers were feared for their skill, according to legend. I was surprised to learn here that Canada had a female sniper in WW 1, and that she achieved better than 100 more kills than Vasiliy Zaitsev. As stirring as his performance was in Enemy at the Gates, he appears quite far down the list in this reference, and Major Koenig (if he existed at all, as the reference discusses) is credited with nearly double. The top scorer (if you can reduce it to such an impersonal term) was a Finn, Lt, Simon Hayha. The reference points out that he did not use a scope.

                • Misha says:

                  Interesting how the role of women can vary.

                  I recall a movie that featured a female Israeli sharp shooter. Darn! I forgot the specifics of that movie, which might be Israeli produced.

                  A few years ago, Russian State TV news aired in the NY market. One news segment of theirs featured an all female Israeli tank crew.

                • Yalensis says:

                  Just shows that women can be as good, or better, snipers, as men. Sharp eyes and steel nerves do not depend on gender.

                • marknesop says:

                  True, but take a look at the Mosin-Nagant that was the standard firearm for snipers. When I joined we were still using the FN-C1, and it weighed 11.5 pounds loaded. Doesn’t sound like much, until you have to carry it all day. The Mosin-Nagant looks heavier still. That’s a lot of weight for a woman to hold steady long enough to get off a shot. I suppose snipers tended to lie up and wait rather than moving around a lot, but it’s still a very heavy weapon.

  19. Anatoli says:

    Skolkovo has a big chance to be a success story but it will require a lot of effort and some time. Many things are initiated by governments, it doesn’t have to mirror Silicon Valley. Skolkovo is already supported by some companies, foreign governments and big investors. It’s not just government, government is only starting it. A big number of engineers and programmers came back to Russia. There are good job opportunities for both Russian and foreign experts. Let’s count chickens when they’re hatched.

    There is no Skolkovo yet but the American hatred is already there, Russia must be doing something right. I think the US should stop hate campaigns against Russia and China. They are not going to attack America. Think economy, not weapons. Deal with Cuba the way China deals with Taiwan – if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em (meaning engage economically).

    • marknesop says:

      Agreed, and agreed. However, some business practices in Russia will have to change, and the layers of bureaucracy one must navigate just to get a simple permit approved have to be simplified, or the whole system torn down to start again. Mr. Medvedev says he has plans to do Skolkovo properly, and I’m sure he knows what has to happen; he’s a smart guy. I’m with you that there are plenty of good opportunities to go around, and I hope it can be done without the requirement for bribes and graft that frequently accompany deals in Russia. If it bworks out right, there should be plenty of employment and income without cheating. I believe it can be done, and I hope it will be.

      • Misha says:

        Brings to mind this article on the Russian legal system:

        http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/16/world/europe/16jury.html?_r=1

        In Russia, there seems to be an across the board understanding that change is needed. Again, the issue is how to go about it.

        Some Russian based attorneys and others note that the jury process in Russia is new in a way requiring a better understanding of the method among jurors and society at large.

        There appears to be a broad enough consensus in Russia that bashing the Russian government on this particular (as well as some others) isn’t a particularly fair and accurate way of increasing the probablity of a more effective and swifter improvement.

        • marknesop says:

          Yes, it would be irrational to argue that Russia is without problems – although I don’t know that the case cited here is any worse than a similarly-positioned American being charged and convicted of a similarly-serious offense, only to receive a presidential pardon by the outgoing executive. By and large, though, the western system of jury trials is both emplyed more often than in Russia, and results more often in verdicts most agree are fair.

          It’s still exasperating, though, to see any efforts to make progress in Russia greeted with sneers, snickers and mockery by the western press. Every other issue – the latest celebrity murder, the latest stupid thing Mel Gibson said when he was hammered – seems to fade fairly quickly, but the press comes back to “backward Russia” like an old friend. If you look at some of Ellen Barry’s past headlines, you’ll see , “Medvedev Angers Japan with Visit to Disputed Islands”, “Russian Activists Protest, Prevailing in Standoff with Officials”, “Draft Law Revives Practice of Soviets” and “Georgia Knocks Stalin Off His Pedestal”. The latter is full of portentuous phrasing like “…symbolically breaking free of Moscow’s dominance”, and “…will replace the statue with a memorial to the victims of Soviet dictatorship…”. I don’t think I’d be making too much of an intuitive leap if I suggested she has a certain mindset toward Russia, and that it comes through in her writing. I sometimes think that where Russia is concerned, you have to prove you dislike it intensely before being considered for a position as foreign correspondent. In the case of every other country, it’s accepted that you encourage behaviours you believe will lead to positive reform. In Russia, it’s as if journalists fear Russia actually will turn into something worthwhile internationally, and they must arrest every sign of progress by greeting it with hisses of contempt. How many people would bring up their children that way, or use that method to argue for municipal improvement in their home town?

          • Misha says:

            Would be criticially progressive to have such particulars like that noted to her and some of her peers when they appear at venues like RT and RIA Novosti.

            In contrast, Western mass media pieces on RT and Russian language mass media appear more prone to being quite critical of the latter grouping.

            Keep in mind how some of the mass media writers at venues like The NYT go thru editing from above. From several off record sources: it’s not uncommon for the editor(s) to give the article’s title among other things.

            • Tim Newman says:

              From several off record sources: it’s not uncommon for the editor(s) to give the article’s title among other things.

              Erm, adding the title is one of the primary functions of a sub-editor in any publication. Your off record source might as well have whispered something from Wikipedia.

              • Misha says:

                That source is pretty advanced and within the loop of English language mass media unlike (for example) a Soros funded person paid to write Wiki entries, or a snarky second guessing commenter.

                A number of people erroneously assume that an article from its title to end is pretty much the given author’s work. Hence my noting as such.

                Besides the article’s title, certain terms can be put in the content along the lines of “symbolically breaking free of Moscow’s dominance.”

                At times, there’ve been some awkard article titles which contradict the content in the given article. This is likely the result of a lack of communication between editor and writer.

                • Tim Newman says:

                  That source is pretty advanced and within the loop of English language mass media…

                  Better not name him then, he’d get in desperate trouble for slipping you such jealously-guarded information.

                • Misha says:

                  Sorry, I’m not really into dialogue with folks who engage in obnoxiously stupid exchanges.

  20. russiawatching says:

    This is a wondeful article on Russia and the western media: http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com/2010/11/the-third-turn.html#more

    • marknesop says:

      Wow; you’re right – that’s a great piece. Certainly a difference from typical (ie: New York Times) western reporting. Excellently substantiated, too. So many western pieces appear to have been written just on the basis of an interview or two with an opinionated liberast, or a personal impression following a press conference. Excellent.

      • Yalensis says:

        Agree, this is a great piece of analysis, thanks, RussiaWatching, for bringing it to our attention. I would add a pessimistic addendum, though: Just this past week, Russia suffered serious diplomatic setback when NATO Parliamentary Assembly came out with shockingly strong pro-Gruzian position. Wording of NATO resolution basically followed Saakashvili propaganda line down to a tee, including calling Russia an “occupier” and telling them to get the hell out of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, because these territories “belong” to Gruzia (i.e., to Kartveli tribe). Abkhazian government responded very sharply, accusing NATO of inciting Gruzian attack and genocide against Abkhazian people. Saakashvili was so delighted by resolution he was having orgasms all over the place. Now he is flying to Lisbon is triumph, to be greeted like hero at summit. All commentators on Russian press said resolution was “fiasco” for Russia. Only possible response for Russia? would be to protest by boycotting summit. Will they do that? Unfortunately, no. Medvedev is still planning to attend. He may even have to endure being in same room as Saakashvili. What a humiliation for Russia! I am very upset, as you can see.

        • marknesop says:

          That’s part of why I dislike Saakashvili as much as I do – his interests continue to be advanced despite his glaring incompetence. He’s like the guy at work who keeps getting promoted because he sucks up to the boss; who never gets caught taking credit for somone else’s initiatives and has no real friends, and whom everybody would love to see step on his dick. It just never seems to happen – more evidence, if you like, that God has a taste for black comedy.

          If a Russian, Iranian or Syrian leader failed to anticipate a military response to deliberate provocation the way Saakashvili did; who basically blew the whole thing from start to finish including the assessment as to how his own troops would perform, capping it all by chewing crazily on his own tie on national TV, the western press would ridicule him until he killed himself in shame. Instead, the western media casts Saakashvili as the bold victor, the eclectic, Mensa-IQ risk-taker with a firm committment to the advancement of his country for its people’s sake.

          That it’s the same media which consistently ignored or glossed over what a blindingly stupid boob George W. Bush is should be lost on nobody. Who says you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

        • Misha says:

          By now, many Russians and so-called realists (who’re not necessarily Russian) should treat such episodes as hot air.

          There’s no need to get so upset. Saakashvili is unable to enforce his will on South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

  21. Yalensis says:

    @Misha, on the subject of editorial titles: a lot of online Russian press that I read have the practice (not unlike American tabloid media) of trying to grab the reader with an intentionally sensationalist and misleading title, but then the article itself is factual. It’s almost like the editors have a contest who can do the greatest title. The best one I ever read was a couple of years back, the Russian title said something like “All Americans agree they never landed on the moon.” It looks like to be sensationalist expose of American moon-landing. Then you read the article, and it is a rather boring narrative about a poll taken among American tourists visiting a space exhibit in a museum somewhere, the pollster asked people waiting in line, “Have you ever pesonally been to the moon?” and all rightly replied, “No.”

    • Misha says:

      Yalensis, some writers don’t bother giving their article a title on the basis of believing that it’s the call of the editors.

      I submit with a title as a way of helping to keep me in tune with my piece. The larger venues with the greater editing base seem more likely to change things.

      I’m of the impression that the best approach is to have an eye catching title within eight to ten words.

      Awhile back, a Russian official told me that in Soviet times, some writers were prone to submitting an article where in the beginning, special effort was made to present an official line. According to this source, towards the end of the article, the opinions might loosen up, with the assumption being that such a format had a better chance of getting a “riskier” (for lack of a better term) view through.

      At times, this kind of tactic can be found in Western mass media. Consider the expression of “throwing a bone.” From a human nature standpoint, it makes perfect sense to say something that will please the slant of the venue.

      It’s a fine line on how to proceed on such matter. Being too diplomatic can lead to an image of lacking assertiveness. On the other hand, the opposite approach risks being accused of unnecessary roughness. Much can depend on what one is replying to.

      For example, this piece:

      http://www.eurasianhome.org/xml/t/expert.xml?lang=en&nic=expert&pid=2355

      is sharper than this one:

      http://www.eurasiareview.com/201009178309/the-future-of-russia-nato-relations.html

      I take into consideration the approach of a finesse player, who can and will dish out good clean hits, in addition to replying to chippyness, at the level of the player initiating chippy play.

      A quality control problem with mass media political journalism concerns how some folks as well as views are given a longer leash than others. IMO, sports journalism appears comparatively freer.

    • marknesop says:

      Misha and Yalensis – sticking with the movie theme for a moment, 2001 sleeper hit “The Shipping News” featured a short scene in which the editor (I think it was played by Larry Pine) is giving the benefit of his experience in editorializing to Kevin Spacey, using the real-time example of an approaching storm front to illustrate his point. The scene did a good job of making the point that it’s more difficult than you might think to encapsulate an event in a short, punchy phrase where the circumstances might be complex, or even not have occurred yet and therefore forecasting a conclusion that could in reality turn out far differently. It’s not as easy as some might think. However, as Tim pointed out, it is fairly routine for editors to either make it up themselves or to modify the drafter’s title. I don’t think the two of you are too far apart on the issue; you agree the editor often does this (which, theoretically, makes sense based on his/her experience in the journalism business), and some insist on it. Whether or not it’s necessarily a trade secret is open to conjecture, although it probably is not well-known. I’d submit, though, that that owes more to people’s disinterest in the infrastructure of journalism in comparison with the end product.

      The oft-used cliche is that it’s like sausage – nobody wants to know how it’s made. When I was a boy growing up in the Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia, they had a similar analogy about apple juice (big apple-producing region). That one was true, too. Gross; you don’t want to know.

      • Misha says:

        Mark, a key issue (at least for me) is when the editor dramatically takes off in a way that’s noticeably different from what was originally submitted.

        Another variable concerns my comment about how the greater censorship can apply to the kind not being advertised.

        The kind of thoughts getting the nod at some venues sends an indirect message on writer guidelines. Granted, there will be venues having a given partisan take. However, some of the suppposedly more balanced of venues show signs of doing the same.

        Another issue is the editor feeling a sense of purpose. If articles aren’t being edited to a considerable degree, the purpose of having an editor becomes more questionable.

        The ideal editor improves on what the writer is actually expressing. Good analysis doesn’t always make for good writing and vice-versa.

        • marknesop says:

          Well, you’re right that the titles of some articles suggest whoever came up with the title didn’t even read the text. However, I find most western media pieces on anything concerning national affairs to frequently be very carelessly researched, and sometimes based on nothing more than a weepy interview with a dissident or displaced person who really knows little outside their exclusive little circle of misery. Other times, the conclusion is predetermined by the author’s prejudices no matter how the piece starts off – like most things written by Anne Applebaum, for example, and none more exemplary than her coverage of the Polish crash at Smolensk. I suppose that’s to be expected given her Polish government connections, but why even make the pretense of being an impartial observer who only reports what happened based on what can be proved?

          I guess that’s a roundabout way of suggesting most western journalism on international affairs is shit based on either the author’s political or national views, the editor spiking anything that doesn’t fit the outlet’s perceived profile, or the reporter’s laziness preventing any realistic presentation of alternative views. It probably doesn’t matter much what the title says.

          • Misha says:

            There’s a definite difference of opinion over objectivity. At The NYT, there’ve been instances of lop-sided commentary like a time span where the given Russian views come from the likes of Gessen, Albatts and Latynina. Ditto one NYT blog where reasoned comments on Bosnia were deleted with a disingenuously stated obscenity message given as reason. Never mind the one-sided crap that was allowed to remain.

            At oD, one of its contributors said that an article in Chronicles Magazine is very biased without apparent consideration to the bias of the person making that claim.

      • Yalensis says:

        @Mark, I never saw this movie, but I like actor Kevin Spacey, so I should try to see it. I like apple juice too, what are you trying to tell me about it?? Ha!

        • russiawatching says:

          I think that is always the discussion with movies. In general, most movies take about 120-150 minutes. So this means that any director has to make a choice. Let’s say you are going to make a movie about the battle at Stalingrad. This battle lasted for months and, as a director, you have to engage in cherrypicking because one cannot simply remake the entire battle of Stalingrad in two hours.

          Look for example, at the literature concerning the Russian Revolution. There is one book, by John Reed (ten days that shook the world), in which he describes personal accounts by the Russians of the October Revolution. His book includes different views. Now, to describe these 10 days he uses more than 300 pages and even in these 300 pages he did not included all opinions of all Russians.

          It goes even more when movies are concerned, especially the historical movies which have always been so popular in Russia including Ivan the Terrible, Alexander Nevsky and the recent blockbuster Admiral. A director, whether he is completely free in deciding upon the angle/theme of the movie, always has to choose what he is going to show.

          As far as the movie Enemy At The Gates is concerned, it is some kind of template/narrative that seems rampant in the West. The director chooses to omit the fact that the Germans commit terrible atrocities in Stalingrad, chooses to portray the Russians as a bunch of barbarians and the Germans as highly civilised. Ofcourse there were the so-called “2nd lines” in Stalingrad, manned by soldiers who were meant to shoot Russian soldiers on the retreat. Did the Russians soldiers sometimes engaged in “unprofessional” behavior? Probably, but I bet the British and the Americans did as well.

          Now the Soviet movie, and to some extent a Russian movie, would probably show the brutality of the German warmachine but neglect the “2nd line” which can be seen in Enemy at the Gates. It would probably emphasize Russian patriotism in the wake of the relentless German slaughter.

          Another example is the recent blockbuster “Admiral”. A portrait of a former White leader, Kolchak. The Russian director decides not to show us that the man had strong anti-semitic feelings and that he frequently lost his temper. Instead, we see a strong admiral who fights for the continuation of the Russian state against the evil Reds.

          The point I am making is this: Every time you position the camera, or change the angle of a shot, or
          alter a shutter opening, or use a different lense, or set up just one more light to create a particular shadow, or ask an actor to make a certain gesture, you
          are inevitably creating facts and meaning about the past. In addition, one can never mirror a certain moment, it is always a reflection of the past. In a sense, historians and filmmakers do the same thing: they speak for the facts (although some historians say that the facts speak for themselves, but look at the debate and controversies around the revolution, Stalin and the 90’s and we can safely suggest otherwise).

          • Misha says:

            You might know of the movie Reds about John Reed:

            http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082979/

            Anti-Jewish activity within the ranks of the Whites was evident. On Kolchak, please provide specifics. On this particular, I’ve come across a good deal of broadly stated claims, minus substantiation.

            My impression is that a good portion of the White brass had some old school views of Jews, on par to what was evident elsewhere at the time. While not looking to excuse what happened (large scale pogroms in Ukraine, not in Kolchak’s locale), this falls short of a Nazi Final Solution type scenario. There’s a difference between not being able to manage mayhem from below under difficult circumstances – with some bad but hard to remove apples in key spots – versus a clearly stated policy of extermination.

            IMO, a key aspect to consider is how Whites like Denikin and Wrangel lived their lives in exile. I know that the Great Soviet Encyclopedia gave a relatively respectful accounting of Denikin.

            I see how some Ukrainian nationalists have done their share of “whataboutism” when the discussion turns to Petliura and his forces.

            Scrolling down a tad, there’s a lengthy discussion on these matters at this link:

            http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/roman-kabachiy/stepan-bandera-divisive-national-icon

            IMO, there has been some unfair stereotyping. I’m of Jewish and White Russian background. The latter group aren’t as negative as some seem to suggest.

            These thoughts relate back to an earlier comment I made at this thread on how the discussion on Russia is limited when the views are solely among anti-Russian elements, politically left of center Russophiles and those influenced by these two.

            • Yalensis says:

              Well, I guess you can count me in the category of “left of center Russophiles”. According to family lore, my male ancestors on my father’s side fought on the side of the Whites. Not sure exactly where, somewhere in Ukraine, I think, so probably were officers under Denikin. One ancestor was said to have been shot by Bolsheviks in firing squad. Despite that, I’m politically anti-White and pro-sovok. Also, I have good job and plenty of money, but somehow in spite of that I always seem to root for the lower classes of society, I dislike capitalists and oligarchs. I don’t know why, I’ve always felt this way, ever since I was small child. I must be an anomaly. Sorry to disappoint!

              • Misha says:

                Interesting.

                Towards the end of the Russian Civil War, the Whites noticeably improved themselves in terms of a better disciplined and policed army, as well as some progressively left Bismarckian socioeconomic planning under Wrangel.

                Imagery periodically comes in conflict with actual background. Denikin for example didn’t come from a particularly well to do family.

                I’m politically the reverse of you. Sorry to disappoint. At the same time, I can’t be legitimately accused of being anti-Russian and/or some kind of extremist bigot.

                • Yalensis says:

                  @Misha: Yes, it is interesting that Denikin came from very humble family: according to Wikipedia, his father was actually born a serf. Many lower and middle-class fought on the side of the Whites; and, correspondingly, Bolshevik leadership came from upper-class and intelligentsia, yet fought for Marxist philosophy seeking to upgrade proletariat to status of ruling class. Seems like a paradox, but is typical human beings with all their complexity. I am not disappointed in you or anyone else. I have thoroughly enjoyed our intellectual discussions, and I have never accused anyone of being a bigot, with the sole exception of AJ. Who, by the way, did pop up in the middle of the night, turning this blog into a bad (but funny) caricature of a Chekhov play!

                • Misha says:

                  Yalensis, I’ve done a good deal of reading and academic/journalistic follow-up on these matters.

                  I’ve posted these links before on the subject of Denikin:

                  http://www.russiablog.org/2009/10/russian-polish-history-averko.php

                  http://www.russiablog.org/2009/07/nikita-mikhalkov-denikinist-state-averko.php

                  Among the sources used is a book by Dimitry V. Lehovich, which is hyperlinked. This book appears to be the most detailed biography of Denikin.

                  The sources writing the more propped history aren’t always the most accurate. I see how the Whites get depicted unlike some others. The FACT is that the Whites recognized Polish and Finnish independence with not so unreasonable conditions.

                  It’s true that the Whites weren’t as forthcoming with other independence considerations. Keep in mind that point in history. Many Brits and French clung to domain that they would only be willing to let go later on. The Whites were by no means exclusively ethnic Russian. Then again, many ethnic Russians are of different blends. Wrangel was of German origin. Denikin’s mother was an observant Polish Catholic. A good number of Whites had Ukrainian surnames with roots in Ukraine. Tack on Armenian and Georgian backgrounds as well. Note how to this day, many in Ukraine view Russia as something closer to kin than the typical relationship between other countries. Back in Denikin’s time this feeling was more evident.

                  In contrast to what Denikin was willing to support, note how Pilsudski sought Polish boundaries in areas where Poles weren’t in the majority. Pilsudski’s support of Petliura was on the condition that Petliura acknowledge all of Galicia as part of Poland. On the other hand, Denikin didn’t enforce conditions on the Galician Ukrainians to recognize any part of Galicia as part of Russia. The Galician Ukrainians accepted being under the command of the Whites in reply to Petliura’s dealing with Pilsudski. The mostly conservative rural based Galician Ukrainians were also uneasy about Petliura’s stated socialism.

                  Concerning Ukraine, here’s a piece from a Croat-Canadian extremist who essentially sees the Serbs as miniature Russians:

                  http://www.kyivpost.com/news/opinion/op_ed/detail/90565

                  The Kyiv Post has a noticeable bias on the articles it does and doesn’t select. This bias isn’t 100% one-sided, while nevertheless evident.

                  In a timely manner, I wrote this just before the release of the above linked piece:

                  http://theivanovosti.typepad.com/the_ivanov_report/2010/11/a-midterm-correction-of-reset.html?cid=6a00d834524a2e69e20134892bc961970c#comment-6a00d834524a2e69e20134892bc961970c

            • grafomnka says:

              “the discussion on Russia is limited when the views are solely among anti-Russian elements, politically left of center Russophiles and those influenced by these two”
              I’m not happy with this polarisation either. Soviet Union has developed into an advanced society in later years, but the carnage that Bolsheviks unveiled on Russia was horrifying, so I find it hard not to sympathise with the Whites. Even back then many socialist minded people have recognized Bolshevik corruption of socialist ideals.

              • Misha says:

                Which explains why Denikin was respectfully treated by Novoye Russkoye Slovo when he arrived in the US.

                For decades it has served as the largest Russian language venue in the US. Prior to the Soviet breakup, it had a patriotic Russian/anti-Communist slant, while also having a staff of a good number of Jews – some of whom with politically left of center views.

                Whether anti-Communist (to mean Marxist and/or Marxist-Leninist) or not, politically left of center views need not be anti-Russian.

  22. AJ says:

    hahaha Im still here!

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  26. Tim Newman says:

    Other times, the conclusion is predetermined by the author’s prejudices no matter how the piece starts off – like most things written by Anne Applebaum, for example, and none more exemplary than her coverage of the Polish crash at Smolensk.

    She might be writing for an audience, to be fair. Because when she was writing for an audience of impartial historians, she produced a masterpiece.

    • kovane says:

      And what is this mysterious masterpiece by Anne Applebaum? I’m just dying to lay my eyes on it.

        • kovane says:

          Are you serious? This book stands on the same level of objectivity and impartiality as Mein Kampf as a source of information on Jewish history. I mean, what’s next, Tim? Saying that her husband Ed Lucas is the conscience and the only voice of reason on Russia? The book deliberately avoid much of known data about GULAG, sidelining it in favour of anecdotal evidence.

          Masterpiece? It’s more like a masterpiece of cheap propaganda, and I’m hesitating to call it even that.

          • Tim Newman says:

            Hmmm. It is strange that few, if any, of her peers take this view and seem to be using it as a reference for their own works. For what better judge is there of a historical work than the fact that other historians are prepared to reference it in their own works?

            Or perhaps we should take somebody who likens it to Mein Kampf as a greater authority?

            • kovane says:

              And who are these other historians that refer to Anne Applebaum’s works? Wait, are we speaking about the same Applebaum, this one?

              But I’m sorry, you’re right. A book where historical data takes up 10 pages out of 600 is a super-serious scientific volume.

              • Tim Newman says:

                IIRC, both William Taubman and Simon Sebag-Montefiore reference Gulag in their own works.

              • Tim Newman says:

                And Gulag is not supposed to be an almanac of facts and figures, it is supposed to be a comprehensive history of the Gulag system. There are plenty of figures and statistics, almost all of which are referenced. The complaint that not enough pages are full of statistics does not devalue the book’s worth one jot.

                • kovane says:

                  Tim, I’m not saying that Gulag is outright lies, but it is simply rehashing of known data and snippets of different memoirs. All the data presented is one-sided and the book evades a significant portion of the whole information. It’s fiction, just like “Gulag Archipelago”, not a historical work.

                  “IIRC, both William Taubman and Simon Sebag-Montefiore”

                  You don’t say. I’m familiar with Sebag-Montefiore’s works, he is clearly a very pro-Soviet, impartial author.

    • marknesop says:

      I confess to being biased against Applebaum, and usually dismiss anything she writes as trash. I lost any lingering shred of respect for her journalistic abilities when she wrote in her regular WaPo column, “The war proved, as we all knew it would, that America no longer needs military allies.” I couldn’t even tell you exactly when now, because it’s gone from her archives, but it would have been immediately after the drive on Baghdad, when conservative set-the-world-to-rights types like her (Board Member The American Interest, married to Poland’s Foreign Minister who is himself a member of the American Enterprise Institute, hardcore conservative by political inclination and Russia-hater by marriage) were giddy with victory and thought the invasion of Iraq was the harbinger of a new American empire. America needed military allies then, some of whom were likely a bit put out by her deliberate insult, and desperately needs them now to help extricate it from the mess it’s made. She also penned a laudatory column about George W. Bush that made me squirm with embarrassment for her even though I hated him; it made Peggy Noonan’s worshipful ode to George Bush’s balls sound critical by comparison.

      It’s funny how you can find stuff that was written a hundred years ago, word for word, but that those two examples of dropping one’s pants in public have vanished from their authors’ archives. To hear Applebaum tell it now, America is not only no longer interested in being the “sole superpower”, it can’t even afford it. That’s why I’m doubly sirry I can’t produce her original column – the contrast makes it sound as if they were written by different people, but the conservative imperialist in her hasn’t died, not really. It’s just banked the fires for the next opportunity, if she lives that long.

      I suppose I should read “Gulag”; even the chronically hypocritical are capable of honesty.

      • Tim Newman says:

        I suppose I should read “Gulag”; even the chronically hypocritical are capable of honesty.

        You should. The depth of research in her book is seriously impressive. Contrary to what the commenter above says, the facts and figures she uses comes with references (many of which are lifted straight from the Memorial archives), and horrific though a lot of what she describes is, she takes considerable efforts to describe the enormous variation across all aspects of the Gulag system. It is considerably objective, although there will doubtless always be those who would dismiss any work critical of Russia or the Soviet Union by a Westerner to be a hatchet job.

  27. Tim Newman says:

    As far as the movie Enemy At The Gates is concerned, it is some kind of template/narrative that seems rampant in the West. The director chooses to omit the fact that the Germans commit terrible atrocities in Stalingrad, chooses to portray the Russians as a bunch of barbarians and the Germans as highly civilised.

    Looking back I can see what you mean, but I didn’t think that at the time. I rather enjoyed the film, which would have been much better without the silly love triangle.

    • marknesop says:

      I must have missed that inference as well; to me, the Russian forces just looked like they were on their last legs and struggling to hold on to discipline at the unit level, never mind national. It’s incredible to think that a country the size of Germany could generate such massive military influence. I didn’t notice any snide references to Russians shooting anyone who tried to retreat, although they’d hardly be the first military to do so, because I wasn’t looking for anything like that. I watched it purely for entertainment value, and I found it very satisfactory in that respect.

  28. M Katz says:

    too much attention to a country/nation that is slowly dying… I mean Russia… in other words – no comments… but if you feel entertained by writing here, please continue… I might read this blog sometimes🙂

    • marknesop says:

      No; I think my wife is actually quite a bit better-looking than Anna Chapman, whom I’d never heard of before the big “spy scandal”. But it’s good to see you’re getting your news from a respected, analytical source.

  29. Jennifer says:

    Mark, this was great! I’m so behind with reading my favorite blogs that I just now got to this. It explained a lot and the comment section is QUITE a hoot! I am about to plunge into “Gulag”

    • marknesop says:

      Hi, Jenn; great to hear from you, and welcome back! Do let me know what you think of “Gulag”, won’t you? I haven’t read it, and although I’m pretty much the anti-fan where Applebaum’s concerned ( I actually caught myself shouting, “Shut it, you whore!!” at the screen over some of her reporting on the crash at Smolensk), I’ve been meaning to read it.

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