On the auspicious occasion of the odometer rolling past 100,000 hits – just before the Kremlin Stooge’s birthday, July 8th – I thought it’d be a good time for a reprise of “Rating the Russia Watchers”. I did a post on this some time ago, and A Good Treaty cleaned up. All the blogs that were on my blogroll then are still there, with the exception of “Birdbrain”, which I had to remove because it went private and you had to be invited to comment. Some new ones have been added, but just like the last time we did this, I’m interested to learn what I’m missing. There are great blogs out there that I have yet to discover, I know there are.
Well, thanks to you readers and energetic commenters, we’re doing all right. We’ve racked up 75 posts since we started, and those have garnered 5,370 comments. Our best-grossing single post of all time, hits-wise, has been kovane’s “Stalin, in the Eye of the Russian Beholder”, with a total of 13,905 hits.
But enough about us – let’s talk about them. Just like last time, I’ll rank the top 10 based on how many “clicks” I registered as people went to their blog from this one. As a measure of popularity, it’s as reliable any other, and just a touch more scientific than simply picking my favourites: these aren’t necessarily my favourites – they’re yours. Once again, this blog will not be part of the rankings, as it is not considered by this method. Without further ado;
1. The Ivanov Report – vaulting into the number one spot with a dominant 692 clicks, Eugene Ivanov’s thoughtful and clever dissections of current events as they pertain to Russia are rarely showy or flashy and never spurious fluff. Instead, you get deliberate, measured analysis that reliably reveals the story behind the story. I’ve grown to think of Eugene as The Gentleman of what sometimes feels like a bloodsport; his replies to comments are invariably good-humoured and tolerant of disagreement, and although I’ve never seen a commenter deliberately provoke him, I get the sense it’d be a wasted effort. Often featured in major online forums, his posts are sober, thoughtful, well-substantiated pieces of analysis that a real understanding of the Russia-watching blogosphere would be incomplete without. Congratulations, Eugene!
2. A Good Treaty – sliding slightly to second with a still-impressive 542 clicks, Kevin Rothrock’s excellent blog has repaid every click in generous measure with 1217 referrals, and is my second-highest referral source. Kevin “came out” earlier this year from being an anonymous blogger, at about the same time he decided to change course slightly in favour of more serious analysis. Consequently the blog seems slightly less edgy, and the update rate is a little slow sometimes. However, it’s still a solid, dependable resource – particularly for discussion of new law initiatives or policy positions of the Russian government – still witty and clever, and still a merciless squasher of russophobic nonsense.
3. Sublime Oblivion – Moving up a spot to take third with 503 clicks, Anatoly Karlin’s blog is my top referrer (2010 referrals) and remains a strong personal favourite for in-your-face challenges to russophobic squealing, of which his recent interview with La Russophobe stands as a fine example. Anatoly seems to have lost his job or something, since we’ve seen a perfect blizzard of posts this month, but his acid wit is sharper than before, if anything. Anatoly has always made mocking eviscerations of nonsense look easy, and he certainly hasn’t lost his touch. He is also an author and principal editor of Arctic Progress, an excellent reference for those interested in the emerging political struggle for domination of earth’s last frontier.
4. Austere Insomniac – Leos Tomicek’s blog continues with it’s dark, brooding atmosphere and occasionally angry tone, but this multilingual blogger also attacks controversial subjects that few discuss and backs up his viewpoints with a staggering amount of research. Leos rarely argues a point from a mere opinion basis. He still maintains the best blogroll in the business, reflecting a broad range of interests and a restless, agile mind. Leos pulled in 387 clicks.
5. The Moscow Diaries – Julia Ioffe has moved, and now has an arrangement similar to her old True/Slant gig; she’s a blogger, but a paid one, this time for Forbes. The 318 clicks she got were mostly tied to her old blog address, which is now defunct, so please remember to update your links. Available fare will be familiar – sarcastic renderings of the Putin regime that have two alternating modes; clueless and evil. Julia is a considerably better writer than a lot of bloggers, but the coverage she provides is very one-sided, and Putin and Medvedev – not to mention every other official in the Russian government – would pretty much have to pull off spontaneous and unassisted flight to please her. She is particularly sarcastic and vituperative when the subject is attractive women in undergarments or lingerie, who have some tenuous connection to Putin or who have otherwise achieved recognition (by winning a beauty contest, say) – as if all Russian women should be slatternly drudges, Birkenstock-sporting lesbians with massive calves or bookish nerds if they wish to earn respect.
6. La Russophobe – The Good Ship ‘Phobe, still staggering along under the mad leadership of Cap’n Kim Zigfeld, remains the stone-ground ass of the Russia blogs. Flopping about in lagoons of crocodile tears, La Russophobe purports to weep for the horrific plight of the Russian Everyman, while snidely suggesting that opening more burger restaurants (“sweeping through Russia like the armies of Napoleon…”) and getting outside of some food that isn’t the native slop are the keys to national greatness. According to Cap’n Kimmie, “You don’t really know Russia unless you read La Russophobe!” In actual sad truth, you could probably accumulate just as much factual information about Russia by logging on to The Cat in the Hat.
Yes, I know. Napoleon’s Grande Armée was decimated in Russia, and pursued by the forces of Tsar Alexander I all the way back to Paris. Quite apart from the comical incongruity of comparing Napoleon’s driven ambition to the expansion strategy of a hamburger restaurant, don’t go there for history lessons either. She racked up 280 clicks.
7. Sean’s Russia Blog – I would have rated this one higher if the choice were mine, but it’s not. Sean was once quite a fire-eater in the Russophobia wars, and a writer for the legendary eXile who – among other noteworthy accomplishments – eviscerated Boris Nemtsov’s “White Paper” (at least one of them, anyway; there have been so many I’ve lost count). Since those giddy days he, too, has gone in for more sober analysis. Like AGT, “sober analysis” does not mean “gratuitous criticism”, and acknowledgement of Russia’s problems is usually supported by achievable solutions. The re-start of Sean’s Russia Blog after Sean’s move appears to have been a success, and showcases both his academic chops and his experience. Sean drew 247 clicks; an excellent read.
8. The American Chronicle – this is still not a blog, but an author information page and placeholder for independent foreign policy analyst Mike Averko. Mike is a regular commenter here, and has slipped me some excellent links that have resulted in very successful feature posts – the one immediately preceding this among them. Many of his 211 clicks will have been from commenters or readers curious to see who this Averko guy is. I actually wish Mike would start a blog – not because I don’t appreciate his comments and advice, but because he supplies such a wealth of material that would benefit from independent review. A scrupulous and tireless researcher with strong interests in slavic centres outside Russia as well.
9. Poemless – this blog staggered a bit earlier in the year owing to the unfortunate personal situation of its author, and it is a tribute to her courage that it didn’t simply fold up. Poemless has always had a talent for seeing something everyone else missed, or looking at the situation or event from a perspective that sparks a fresh analysis. This can make you want to shake her until her teeth rattle if it happens to kick the legs out from under an argument you spent a good deal of time constructing, but it’s a joy to watch when it sandbags some smug Russophobe and leaves him or her looking like they have swallowed a chicken’s foot. Still a sharp, incisive and evocative writer likely to garner more than the 195 clicks she got once she regains her stride.
10. Russian Military Reform – a blog whose title is somewhat misleading, this excellent venue by Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg has as its focus all aspects of Russian military reform. So, while this might lead you to believe it’s all tanks and destroyers and fighter-jets zipping in and out, it actually includes some fascinating studies on the political dimension as well. An autocratic or semi-autocratic government model always numbers control of the military among its priorities, against the risk of being deposed by that selfsame military. Meticulously researched and well-supported by solid references, not to mention excellent academic credentials and experience, this source comes highly recommended and drew 194 clicks.
The People Have Spoken: so let it be written. Unless someone demands a recount, the way they do in politics – particularly politics you are interfering in rather than politics in your own country – when the preferred candidate doesn’t win. Absent that, I have a few Honourable Mentions as well.
1. Russia – Other Points of View – if it were up to me, this would have been my top pick. ROPV has been criticized in the past for its dry, matter-of-fact delivery, which sometimes detracts from its readability. But if you are in search of well-substantiated, up-to-the-minute, informed-on-steroids discussion of current events and how they impact Russia, you can’t do better than this. Patrick Armstrong’s articles in particular reflect the very best of pragmatic, insightful analysis, and the impressive stable of professionals who contribute (your number-one pick, Eugene Ivanov, among them) are hot on his heels in their provision of hard-hitting, captivating assessments of Russian policy as it applies to the world, as well as world policies as they apply to Russia. This is the real stuff. If you like it, show your interest by commenting and getting involved!
2. Truth and Beauty – this outlet supplies insights on the impact of new policies and initiatives from a business and/or financial point of view. Standout coverage of the Khodorkovsky verdict by Eric Kraus, from the viewpoint of Khodorkovsky’s venal business practices and what they might mean to an America that too closely embraced him while overlooking the threat such an embrace might constitute to American security, offers a startling contrast to the blubbering bootlicking exhibited by the mainstream.
3. RussiaWatchers – a cooperative effort of Dutchmen Nils Van der Vetge and Joera Mulders, this venue offers excellent quality translations of current and important Russian stories. An invaluable resource for those who can’t read Russian or make sense out of sometimes-awkward machine translations, their stories have the feel of having been originally written in English.
4. Dissonance – Alexandre Latsa’s blog would undoubtedly feature high in a ratings list of English-language Russia blogs – were it in English. It’s not, and if you can’t read French you might not get the most out of it. However, even if it takes you 3 minutes to get through the average sentence in French, you’d still get something out of this thoroughly-researched and highly informative blog. A few articles also available in English, Russian and Italian.
5. Odessa Blog – very recently added to my blogroll, this has become a go-to reference for Ukrainian issues and politics.
My thanks to all of you for making blogging the blast it still is, and my thanks to all those listed above for their inspiration and guidance.