Reading the Tea Leaves, or Smoking Them? Democratist’s Crystal Ball

Uncle Volodya says, "It's better to spend like there's no tomorrow than to spend today like there's no money."

Whether you’re a fan, or as a result of philosophical disagreement between that site and this one, you’re probably at least peripherally familiar with the democracy quote that is Democratist’s battle cry – “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those others that have been tried from time to time”.

Personally, I always found Churchill a bit smug. And indeed, quite a few people do pretend democracy is all-wise, if not perfect, in the sense they are so sure you want it that they don’t ask you before making you take it. Anybody who’d do that with a system acknowledged to have serious flaws certainly means you no good when they march in to democratize you at gunpoint. But if any quality made Sir Winston the merry rake he unquestionably could be in spite of his smile-free physiognomy, it was inconsistency. Having seemed to hold up democracy as the standard to which all but the foolish should aspire, he promptly put his boot in its goolies when he said, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter“. Ha, ha – Winston, you cutup; you’re right, them people be’s stupid. Oscar Wilde appeared to agree with him, saying, “Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people“. And how about that old anarchist in the woodpile, Thomas Jefferson? “Democracy is nothing more than mob rule“, said he, “where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine“. Word, Mist’ Jefferson – testify.

Anyway, demockery of democracy aside, Democratist and I are uneasy allies when it comes to the democratic system – one man, one vote, and everyone gets a chance to speak his/her mind at the ballot box. However, democracy has come a long way since the 4th century, and what you see today is not the democracy of Cleisthenes. Where we appear to diverge on the concept is that I believe democracies have a duty to set an example of how great it works first; to not slip clandestine funds to the opposition in an attempt to hedge their bets, and to make it clear the choice is the peoples’. Perhaps it’s just me, but I have to say I think the west has kind of sucked a little bit in the last couple of decades where setting the example is concerned. Slipping money to the opposition – and sometimes even kind of creating the opposition out of very little more than a pretty face and a silver tongue – is almost de rigueur. And as we’ve seen to varying extents with the balmy “Arab Spring” the world is currently enjoying, at least some of the reason the west is insistent on higher rates of internet penetration is to enable “twitter revolutions” and Facebook chain reactions that will bring down the government before it knows it’s under attack. Sometimes, that’s just what the people want. Roll on, say I. But sometimes, the people are too confused to know what they want, and making up their minds for them is a little bit like stealing money out of a blind street musician’s violin case. That’s the kind of thing a real upholder of democracy should feel ashamed of, if it was done deliberately, don’t you think?

Well, never mind that: once again, I’ve gotten distracted, and democracy wasn’t at all what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about, may God forgive me, is FDI.

Foreign Direct Investment. Jesus Q. Johnnycake on a silver surfboard – does nobody understand this concept? Why, WHY do we have to keep going around and around and around with capital flight and FDI? Demon economists from beyond the grave? An epidemic fact allergy? Bullshit in the gasoline?

All right – let’s take a look at it. Right off the bat, I have to say I don’t care for the title. “Beyond the polls”? What’s that supposed to mean? Who gets polled in Russia? Potential voters. This appears to suggest Democratist knows something the Russian voters don’t, since what the polls say obviously is either incorrect, or doesn’t tell the whole story. Let’s presume the latter – prepare to be enlightened.

In the beginning, I have no real disagreement. Well, except for terminology: the “nomenklatura-dominated corporatist politico-economic system”? In the words of Napoleon Dynamite – who is evidently every bit the political analyst Democratist is – what are you even talking about? Anyway, yes, it looks extremely likely the United Russia candidate, whether it be Medvedev or Putin, will win. Does that mean the vote is rigged in advance? If you mean very few voters in Russia are interested in voting for someone else – gee, I guess so. Sorry if that inspires a grand mal seizure of spite. However, I’d just ask one more time: if advance polls predict 70% of voters will vote for President Medvedev and he gets within 2 percentage points of exactly that (which is just about exactly what happened last time), where does all the caterwauling about the vote being rigged come from? You, uh…had a preview of what was going to happen; that’s why they call them advance polls.

Well, let’s move on. Yes, yes; here we go. A “lack of FDI”, which cites another Democratist post as a reference.

Before we get any further into this, let’s stipulate that you will be able to find references that use terms like falls, plunges, plummets, drops, whatever your favorite might be, as applied to FDI in Russia. Note, however, that they refer to 2009 or 2010, when the country was still coming out of the global financial crisis. Note further that since, by definition, foreign direct investment is funding from outside Russia, how does this reflect badly on Russia that foreigners have no money to spend because they’re struggling to keep from going under? It’s certainly OK to cite statistics from 2009 and 2010 to make your case, but the trend should actually be going in the right direction.

In the Democratist post Democratist referenced, he announced that it “seemed very unlikely that the much hoped-for Western FDI flows into Russia will recover any time soon”. Now looks as good a time as any to see what kind of prophet he is.

Oh, my. It appears he was wrong – but we shouldn’t be too hard on him, since the rest of the yahoos who said FDI fell off a cliff were not exactly telling the truth, either. That’s unless Ernst & Young, Professional Financial Services (Russia Division) with 8 offices in Russia and in business there since 1989, is full of shit. Oh, there are different ways of measuring FDI, and you can skew the statistics to make it support your viewpoint in many cases. Therefore, I leave it up to you – measured by investment projects (page 7), FDI in Russia only slowed in 2009/2010, and was “always positive”. We also see that in 2010, Russia was the 4th largest recipient of FDI in Europe (page 6), an increase of 18% on 2009.

Since we’ve come this far on a subject I have good reason to believe we’re all tired of hearing about, perhaps some kind of definition of FDI would help us nail it down. It looks like it’d be effort wisely spent, since even Kudrin doesn’t appear to understand it all that well; his figures and projections are all over the place. Therefore, according to Professor Kornecki (Professor of Economics, Embry-Riddle University, Florida) in “Trends and Recent Development in Foreign Direct Investment in Russia“, FDI is, “an investment made to acquire lasting interest in an enterprise operating outside the economy of the investor. The purpose of the investor is to gain an ownership and, therefore, an effective voice in the management of the enterprise.

Let’s pause a moment to reflect on that, because it is a pivotal statement that explains a lot. Although the definition of FDI is as flexible as the means of measuring it, and there are any number of benign investments in which the foreign principals expect to realize a profit but basically are content with a hands-off approach – this definition suggests the aim of the investor is achievement of a controlling interest in the venture or company.

Would it be wise to permit such a thing to happen, do you think, in the case of the commodity that is the backbone of your economy? This goes far toward explaining why Russia craves FDI in the oil industry (mostly to benefit from technology transfer, much as the military seeks to do), but is extremely wary of any sign that an investor is making a grab for control. In the context of how the west more or less constantly maneuvers to place Russia at a disadvantage – including but not limited to overthrowing its political leadership – this seems less and less like paranoia and more and more like prudence.

At this point, those who disagree with the direction we’re going in usually point out that the USA is the world’s largest FDI market, and it actually permits a staggering degree of foreign ownership. That’s true – but look carefully at who the investors are and what they’re allowed to own.  The United Kingdom. Japan. The Netherlands. Canada. Germany, and France. Except for France – and under Sarko the American, all is forgiven – loyal, trusted allies all. While you’re there, have a look at Figure 1, page 4. Look at what happened to investment in the USA by foreigners in 2008 and 2009 (as far out as this report goes). Now look at what happened to money spent by Americans in foreign investment in other countries. See that sharp downward trend in both? So much for the “anomalous performance” seen in Russia.

But the larger point I wanted you to take away is that the USA never – never – allows a controlling interest to be achieved in a strategic asset by a foreign country with whom it visualizes itself to be in opposition on any field of battle: business, ideology, military, global influence. Consider what happened when Chinese national oil company CNOOC attempted to acquire UNOCAL, a California-based energy company, in 2005. The sale was blocked on fears of China controlling a strategic asset which might potentially be used to threaten U.S. interests.

They didn’t try again for another 5 years, when they succeeded in buying a 33% share in a shale gas recovery project in exchange for picking up 75% of the costs. In this instance the USA possibly hopes for new technological approaches to evolve, in which it will claim a proprietary interest – since the current system, known as “fracking”, or fracturing, is inefficient and produces terribly toxic wastes. Also, shale gas is presently a low EROEI (Energy Returned On Energy Invested) recovery method that is only “potentially profitable” rather than a license to steal, like oil is.

They’re right to be wary, because China blew past Japan in 2010 and is now the world’s second-largest economy.  It is forecast to overtake the USA within 20 years, but that forecast is offered by those trepidatious grannies at CNN Money. Edgier sources predict it could happen as early as 2014.

FDI is sought by all countries for a variety of reasons; it provides a healthy cash flow which – properly managed – helps control inflation; it permits sometimes very rapid growth in Research and Development of emerging technologies. It acts as an expression of confidence in the recipient’s future, which is good for credit should that country need it. Last, but by no means least, it creates jobs in the recipient country.

Look at this breakdown of unemployment figures, offered by the CIA World Factbook, and quite recently. Yes, that’s right, that’s the United States sitting down there at number 106, right below the European Union. The lower your position, the higher your unemployment. A soupçon of sweet irony, if you are fond of it, is provided in the twinning of the USA’s unemployment figures with those of Egypt: anyone remember the jubilation that rippled through U.S. neoconservative social engineers when the Egyptian government was overthrown earlier this year for – among other things – failing to provide its citizens with an adequate standard of living?

Anyone see Russia? Oh; there it is – at number 82, much better than the world average, and higher than Canada, the United Kingdom, Italy and France. A lot of factors influence those placements, but the importance of FDI as an employment driver cannot be ignored. Who, just off the top of your head, does not appear to have an FDI problem?

In fact, the global trend in FDI is away from developed economies, and toward developing and emerging economies.

The remainder of the referenced Democratist post mostly consists of “predictions” that are more or less in the order of, “it will be dark tonight after the sun goes down, but it will begin to brighten a little toward morning” – economic stagnation, blah, blah. I’m not even going to address the twaddle about the Russian economy “going into deficit”. The economy would have to fall like Yeltsin from the top of Ostankino TV tower with his mother’s pirozhki recipe book in his pocket to match the deficits of the western countries that are looking down their noses and passing judgment, and Russia currently has the lowest deficit in the G20 by a considerable margin.

But, say – if you’re one of those people who gets a warm little glow around his heart when you think about Russia scrabbling desperately at the greasy sides of a pit with the fires of hell yawning at its bottom…this is probably depressing you. I know what will cheer you up – a contest!! Ready? This is a two-part question; (a) what leader said this, and (b) what actually happened?

“My plan reduces the national debt, and fast; so fast, in fact, that economists worry that we’re going to run out of debt to retire.”

I’ll buy a drink of choice for the first to answer correctly, when next we meet.

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144 Responses to Reading the Tea Leaves, or Smoking Them? Democratist’s Crystal Ball

  1. AK says:

    Democratist as usual excels in setting new standards of rambling a lot without saying anything, grasping at any straw to “prove” Russia is failing. How exactly will these two predictions be falsified? How can we tell when the “nomenklatura-dominated corporatist politico-economic system” (what a mouthful) and “effectively lead” cease being actual?

    What is the meaning of “meaningful reforms” and do not elites everywhere (by definition) have a “privileged economic position”? How are we to measure “reform, corruption and inefficiency”?

    Putin’s 4.2% prediction is the same as the IMF’s and World Bank’s. Kudrin is a traditional bear. The kind of investment growth he wants – of 30% – is atypical anywhere outside China.

    And you’d have to have a strange definition of “relative stagnation” if 4% is defined to be that. Russia has a population with zero growth and a GDP per capita of $20,000, which is already well more than half the EU average. It’s no economic miracle, obviously, but nonetheless 4% growth per annum from a base of $20,000 translates into $30,000 by 2020. That’s basically like Italy.

    • marknesop says:

      Might turn out to look somewhat better than Italy, if Italy’s economy continues to slide like it’s doing, with some 25% of its debt having to be refinanced within the next 18 months and potential lenders clearing their throats and pretending to be interested in something else in a different direction.

      The Chinese were clever to start buying up even more U.S. debt by using shell companies that don’t identify the lender’s nationality, and Russia might be wise to do the same now. The official figure of how much American debt the Chinese own is liable to surprise a few people when the actual extent becomes known. Naturally Russia has no reason to want to bring Italy down, but you never know when you might need to apply a little pressure to get an important vote to go your way.

      Alternatively, Uncle Silvio might want to throw his 9 Billion in personal wealth into the mix. It’d be nothing more than a gesture considering the overall numbers, but think what a national hero he’d be!

      I agree the subject article is a bit of a ramble, with the sort of “predictions” that – outside the FDI and the deficit – would be very hard to verify quantitatively and are thus weighted for success. Unless corruption is eliminated, as you and Eugene have pointed out, it will be assessed as a complete failure to make progress against corruption, for example. But it’s the overall smug arrogance that gets me.

    • marknesop says:

      Yes, FDI is generally acknowledged to have fallen post-crisis in Russia, although no harder there than the world average – it is the recovery in Russia that has been astonishing, but which likely owes a good deal to energy prices. I’m not familiar with the model Ernst & Young uses to show steady growth, but it appears to be based on number of FDI projects commenced per annum. Perhaps the state pumped some of the cash reserves into these projects to soften the blow, although if so, that wouldn’t really be FDI. Or perhaps a portion of portfolio investment was reclassified to cosmetically beef up FDI, although that also wouldn’t constitute FDI either in the truest sense of the term.

      In 2011, however, Russia leads the region in attracting foreign investment. Even this is a bit disingenuous, as it appears to sometimes lump portfolio investment in with FDI. For definitive purposes, pure FDI appears best explained as fresh investment money, directly invested from outside the country, and not including profits reinvested by agencies operating inside Russia that are foreign-owned. Jesse Heath often mentions Putin’s crazy projections of FDI at $40 Billion, and I’d hazard a guess what he actually meant was total foreign investment including portfolio investment and reinvested profits. Expressed that way, foreign investment did indeed pass $40 Billion in the first quarter alone. I couldn’t say for sure, as I didn’t see the manner in which the question was asked, either. Perhaps it allowed for ambiguity, I don’t know.

      Still, there’s no realistic way the current situation could accurately be expressed as a “lack of FDI”.

    • marknesop says:

      Ooooohhh…you’re halfway to a free drink! But it was a two-part question. What actually happened (relating to his debt reduction plan – ie: was it successful)?

      • yalensis says:

        Correct answer is: No.
        So, SovietJournalist and I get to share free drink?

        • marknesop says:

          Well, I was hoping for a little more detail, on the order of “not only did his plan not reduce the debt – quickly or otherwise – it drove America so deeply into debt to foreigners with which it does not share ideology that it is questionable if there ever was really a plan at all. In fact, it was probably just another of those soothing things you say to voters so they’ll stop rolling their eyes like horses that smell smoke”.

          But “no” is technically all that’s called for, and I’m sure I can afford to buy you each a drink unless you favour Dom Perignon or Remy Martin.

          • In fact, what it developed to was that US maintenance of bases in Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, training for a shore-defensive against China, was kept up on funds loaned from China.

            As for the drink, well, all’s good now since we have a third party (that’s an old soviet anecdote, two guys that wanted to get drunk commonly couldn’t afford it and coined the phrase “find a third party immediately!” so as to be able to pay for the booze)

  2. democratist says:

    A reply to your article;

    “quite a few people do pretend democracy is all-wise” Perhaps so, but I am not one of them. I have never been a neocon, and have criticized them several times in my blog.

    Cutting through the fluff, your first main point is that the West/US is forcing democracy on people who are not ready for it. While this may have been true in a number of recent cases (Afghanistan, Iraq), as someone who takes his historical sociology seriously, I would venture to suggest that over the past 65 years democracy has emerged as an integral component of capitalist modernity: When a certain number of economic and social prerequisites are met, people start to demand more from their governments, including representation. Certainly much recent history would seem to support this thesis, while there is little to suggest that authoritarianism is the wave of the future. In the case of the “Arab Spring” I have the strong impression that the populations of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen etc. want democratic representation despite American hypocrisy on democratization. Or are you suggesting (as Russia Today did a few months ago) that all of these revolts were the work of the CIA? Personally, I think that’s just self-serving bullshit, dreamed up by the elite to disguise the precariousness of their autocratic model over the long-term.

    You say, “…at least some of the reason the west is insistent on higher rates of internet penetration is to enable “twitter revolutions” and Facebook chain reactions that will bring down the government before it knows it’s under attack.” So the internet is also some kind of western plot? Again, I would venture to suggest that actually the spread of the internet has more to do with technological innovation, which is in turn driven by economics – i.e. the industrial revolution. Capitalism certainly began in “the west” but has been spreading around the world for 2o0 years, increasingly so over the last 40. While the relationship is not linear, democracy seems to a marked extent to be spreading with it.

    As for the forthcoming elections (or polls) I am of the opinion that a genuinely free and fair vote would be the best way to establish people’s voting intentions, rather than claiming that the election results must be correct because the opinion polls give similar figures. Opinion polls can be rigged, and given Soviet/Russian history it would hardly be astonishing to discover that more people told a stranger over the phone that they were going to vote for the ruling party than actually intended to do so. As to whether the forthcoming elections in Russia will meet international standards, I will save my analysis until after the event(s).

    “FDI: According to UniCredit, FDI into Russia was $3.89 billion for the first quarter of 2011. So annualized it might be (say) $16 Billion for 2011. The best figure pre-crisis was (according to Kudrin) $27 billion per year, and the figure he stated was for $12-$14 billion last year. So I was correct in suggesting in February in the context of my piece that “it seems very unlikely that that Western FDI flows into Russia will recover any time soon.” (i.e. recovery to pre-2008 levels). Of course, we won’t know the final figures until the end of the year, but $16 billion doesn’t seem that impressive to me; 4th place within Europe as E&Y state, but only 5% of the total, and very modest compared with the other BRICs (China took about $48 billion in the first five months of this year). It will also also be interesting to see how much of that $16 billion is actually Russian money, and not really FDI at all. As for the future, I note that, according to the graph on page 1 of the report, Russia is indicated as the least attractive place to establish operations of all those mentioned, and since 2009 the trend has been a negative one. Given the (mostly warranted) bad press Russia has received in relation to corruption and inefficiency – especially towards the end of last year (Khordokovsky, Magnitsky, “virtual-mafia state” etc), I suspect FDI recovery to continue to be very slow. The E&Y report also says that FDI into R&D accounted for only 2% of FDI 200 projects in 2010 – i.e. a total of 4 projects; so much for “modernization”. Additionally, it rather disingenuously says that negative trends in FDI “can be overcome by the course Russia has taken towards modernization and innovative development of the economy,” – but the point of many of my articles over the past year has been that modernization and innovation are not currently taking place in Russia in any meaningful sense.

    BTW -Loved the side-swipe about shale gas. Personally I’m all for it. Low prices, energy diversification? Sounds great. Who could possibly lose out?

    Oh wait…

    • AK says:

      Let’s think… perhaps the cocktail of chemicals it seeps into the ground, devastates the landscape, methane leaks, causes earthquakes, the calculations that it may emit as much CO2 as coal, the fact that it has a very low EROEI and barely yields more energy than the energy expended to produce it… but don’t led any of that stand in the glorious advance of Democratism!

      • Kozakov says:

        AK – I tend to agree with your assessment of shale gas as a poor alternative to conventional energy sources (as I do of the current darling of the environmentalists, algae derived bio-resources), but I don’t think that this was the Democratist’s major thrust.

        • marknesop says:

          I’m well aware the thrust was a suggestion that jumping on the cheap-shale-gas bandwagon would disadvantage major energy producers, such as Russia. And so it might, if there actually were huge quantities of cheap shale gas lying around. The gleeful agitators for shale gas like to rhapsodize that Poland sits on huge deposits of viable gaseous shale. Well, so does the USA, who all but abandoned it years ago after realizing you had to fracture tons of shale to get a barrel of usable oil. That needn’t suggest the resource will never be viable, but right now it’s nothing like it. As Anatoly suggested, only the very richest deposits will even allow you to break even, and the method itself is horribly destructive to the environment.

          But don’t take my word for it – experience is the best teacher. Act on behalf of a country that you select to wean off the Russian teat. Convince their government that they don’t need Russian natural gas, and get the pipelines turned off and routed away. Convince a western startup to take a monopoly on producing enough shale gas from domestic deposits to supply their energy needs, for less than they were paying for natural gas from Russia. You never know, they might build a statue of you in the town square. If you speak up now, you might get Poland; nobody’s tried it yet, and it is known to have huge deposits. Don’t wait – get in on the ground floor.

          • cartman says:

            The alternative is still nice democratic energy from, um, Saudi Arabia.

            • marknesop says:

              I couldn’t go into it in the kind of detail I would have liked because I was just leaving work for home at the time. But here are a couple of good references that demonstrate shale gas is not a new phenomenon, but has been around for a long, long time; that recovery is complicated and expensive and that you don’t just pop it into a barrel and sell it – it has to be heated to 600 degrees just to get it out of the rock, and dozens of projects were abandoned in the USA years and years ago due to losses and unsustainability. As explained in the references, shale gas production would have to double every 5 years in order to reach the estimates its wild-eyed proponents offer of its share of the energy market. How likely is that, given depreciation rates on developed projects of 45% in the first 12 months? It goes beyond the law of diminishing returns and enters the law of why is this argument still going.

              It should be significant that one of the countries with the most longstanding experience in shale gas/oil is China, having started it at a production level in 1929 (actually it was the Japanese, but working in China). They record that they crushed 25 tons of rock to extract 1 ton of oil. Granted, modern methods are more efficient, but still only break-even at best and with a horrid cost in pollution, while depletion rates drop off sharply to no-longer-cost-effective. Think about it. If it’s too toxic for China, which has displayed a noticeable lack of concern for the environment while it would do almost anything to secure energy independence, how likely is it that it’s the “game-changer” its advocates describe?

    • grafomanka says:

      Re: Russia’s pre crisis level FDI
      In 2008 analysts were suggesting that Russia pre-crisis investment boom was unsustainable in the long term, prices sky-rocketed (Moscow property prices), economy was overheating and cooling off period is inevitable. Looks like that’s exactly what happened.

      By the way, and I’ll play devil’s advocate here, what FDI and how much of it goes into R&D, modernisation, etc has to do with democracy?
      From what I understand main obstacles to Russia economics modernisation is reliance on fossil fuels, corruption and the fact that society is not very enterprising.
      FDI is concerned with economic freedom, not political freedom.

      • marknesop says:

        Well, in fact you are right, and FDI has little to do directly with democracy. I haven’t looked, so I can’t be specific as to amounts, but I’d venture to guess a good deal of western-origin FDI has gone into monarchies and outright dictatorships, as it is the opportunity for profit and not the willingness to muster for democracy inspection that drives investment. However, since FDI is tied directly to employment through jobs, a lack of it can lead to widespread unemployment, which can then be blamed on the lack of progressive values displayed by the government. So although they’re not really linked directly, they are associated in the sense that healthy FDI levels are interpreted as a vote of western confidence in the government that it can achieve and maintain political stability. But the lure of profit has overcome repugnance for the government many times and in many places before. If you need an example, Halliburton under the command of Dick Cheney was still doing business with Iran under strict economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. at the urging of the USA. That’s not technically the same thing as FDI, since Halliburton merely continued to sell oilfield development equipment to Iran through an offshore subsidiary in defiance of sanctions – but it’s also true that the equipment helped Iran extract more oil and that Halliburton profited considerably from the sales. To be properly designated FDI, I guess, the USA would have to openly give the money to Iran in exchange for a degree of partnership in the venture and a profit-sharing agreement. But it would most definitely fall under the mantle of “foreign investment”.

        Short answer; FDI levels in Russia are used as a measure of external approval for Russian governmental policy and reforms. Therefore, when FDI levels fall off it is interpreted as an expression of disapproval for the government’s conduct.

        • democratist says:

          Why not try addressing any of the main of the points I made in my reply?

          • marknesop says:

            I’ve been trying to finish that off since yesterday – I do apologize, but I’ve taken on some extra responsibilities at work and, much as I’d love to simply blog all day, long replies are a stretch for me. You’ve covered a pretty wide range of subjects, and I’d like to do it justice. Trust me, it’s coming.

  3. Kozakov says:

    Looks like the Democratist is still standing, after round 1. 🙂

  4. yalensis says:

    On Libya: War slogs on. Just like WWI where progress was defined by moving forward 10 meters to take the next trench, in Libya progress is measured by 100 guys in pickup trucks driving out a government checkpoint of 10 soldiers in some remote mountain village, seizing village, and declaring victory.
    Specifically: One week ago, rebels took a village called Qawalish in Western mountain area.
    Yesterday (Wednesday) morning, Gaddafi loyalist forces briefly took the village back, but within a few hours it was overrun by rebels again.
    Meanwhile, even Western media, which is firmly pro-rebel in its tone, admits that rebels did some bad things during their tenure. For example, this BBC account of human rights abuses in some rebel-occupied villages.
    In this account there is more specific information about the specific villages and tribes abused by rebels.
    Specifically, after they took certain villages, rebels burned them to the ground, chased out population, looted homes and even destroyed a hospital. These villages are now ghost towns. Accounts specifically mention a tribe named Mashaashia which was abused and driven out by rebels.
    From what I can figure by reading these accounts, this Western mountain area of Libya is patchwork of tribes, ethnic groups, and languages (not unlike Caucasus). Some villages are Berber, others are Arabic. Berbers tend to favor rebels, Arabs tend to favor regime. I know very little about Libyan history, but I am wondering if maybe Libya is similar to Caucacus. In Caucasus, Russians came in as the outside force and imposed order on squabbling tribes. In Libya, maybe it was the Arabs who played this role? Berbers do have some legitimate beefs against the regime (= suppression of their language and culture) and seem to be supplying most of the insurgents against regime (at least in the West; in East it is different story: Islamists/Al Qaeda are the main rebel force there).
    Needless to say, Berber tribes cannot become the rulers of all of Libya, despite their boasts about marching on Tripoli tomorrow. Arabs are ruling elite in Libya, and will most likely continue to be so, regardless of whether Gaddafi or someone else is in power.

  5. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Hi Mark,
    did you know that Churchill was an admirer of Mussolini and fascism? He started to change his mind only after the Italian aggression to Ethiopia, but still tried to save Mussolini in 1945. Some quotes
    “Mussolini is the greatest living lawgiver” (1933);
    “I don’t deny that he [Mussolini] is a great man”;
    “If I had been an Italian, I am sure I would have been entirely with you [Mussolini] from the beginning to the end of your victorious struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.” (1927 during a press conference in Rome).
    Note that Churchill was not saying that fascism was good for Italians, implying it didn’t fit the UK, as is maintained by some people that want to accuse him of racism. Rather, Churchill thought that it was possible to renounce democracy for fascism to contain the communist threat. It fits well with the Democratist attitude at censoring comments on his blog. As he wrote in a previous comment “I’m for free speech, but…”.
    Re. FDI, I’ve found this wikipedia page that gives two lists of countries according to total (i.e. not annual) FDI, the first list by UNCTAD up to 2007, the second one by the CIA World Factbook mostly up to 2010. In the first list China and Russia are at the 12th and 13th position respectively, with 327 and 324 billions $, in the second list at 8th and 16th position, with 574 and 305 billions $. Note that tiny Hong Kong is at the 3rd position in the first list, between the 4th and 5th position in the second one. Also, look at Belgium and Netherlands positions in both lists.
    To me, this means that FDI is an uncertain quantity, difficult to measure and that changes dramatically if you slightly change the measuring criteria.
    The Democratist is using an old propaganda device: take some economic indicator which isn’t good for the target country, blow it out of proportion, predict a sudden collapse. An uncertain and volatile indicator is best suited for this purpose, because hard data is not easily manipulated.
    I still remember when russophobes used Credit Default Swaps (CDS, certain but volatile) to bash Russia and predict her imminent collapse. At the time they were high for Russia (but irrelevant, because there wasn’t a meaningful Russian state debt), when they lowered they suddenly lost their importance.

    • yalensis says:

      @Giuseppe: “..bestial appetites and passions of Leninism…” ??
      Churchill really said that? That would imply he thought Vladimir Ilyich was the guy who was hit by a falling grand piano but still caught with a copy of “Sheep-lovers Anniversary Edition” in his pocket. That’s the one where the centerfold is a big-ass sexy sheep in garters.

  6. marknesop says:

    Always delightful to hear from you, Democratist, and apologies again for the tardiness of my reply. As I believe I mentioned, although we don’t agree on everything, we agree democracy is the best political system for a free and self-determinant people who are sufficiently informed to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in a democracy. This is the case in western countries (although I believe we can agree laziness and apathy have frequently made a mockery of the “responsibilities” part in many of them) and others which have had democratic systems in place for a significant period. We continue in relative agreement that “over the past 65 years democracy has emerged as an integral component of capitalist modernity”. No argument there. We are similarly on the same page where Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to human development, and that once basic needs are met, man will want more and will posit increasingly sophisticated self-determination requirements. If you are prepared to stipulate to “American hypocrisy on democratization” in recent scenarios, I applaud your open-mindedness, and I am decidedly in agreement that authoritariansim is not the wave of the future.

    Where we seem to diverge is on democracy’s aims for Russia, because the relationship between the west (chiefly the USA, but not entirely and not even including all of the USA’s institutions) and Russia is not like the relationship between the west and any other country. I agree that democracy is generally a gift the west is eager to bestow on many countries, because it’s generally good for the population and good for trade and business. Not in the case of Russia. I don’t mean the benefits would not be good for Russia; I mean the intent is not to empower Russians for their benefit, but to create a destabilization problem for the government and to prevent Russia from increasing its influence. China is a thousand times more aggressive in anti-US/anti-west covert activity – especially in the areas of R&D and network hacking – than Russia, and the western response to China is ever more investment and relations-improvement overtures. China is also one of the most repressive human-rights regimes on the planet, so recognized by the same institutions westerners repeatedly nod wisely over when they criticize Russia (such as the Corruption Perceptions Index, Amnesty International, Freedom House, etc…). But China is a respected and welcomed member of long standing in the WTO, while Russia gets the “sorry – private party” treatment. China owns enough American debt to ignore the USA at its pleasure when it lectures China about human rights, but the response is to pour more and more money into China. Do you see U.S. NGO’s in China, stirring up the opposition – which there most certainly is – and getting them all hot about democracy? You do not. Democracy initiatives, as you have suggested, have been cynically employed as destabilization tactics. You need look no further than Egypt for example – the revolution complete (role of Facebook duly noted), now rudderless and adrift. As far back as 2009, the U.S. State Department intervened in scheduled maintenance of Twitter (then in its infancy) to prevent the service being withdrawn when it was being used to influence the Iranian elections.

    Governments have demonstrated they will shut down social networks because they consider them valid tools for spreading revolution. The western answer? Internet in a suitcase, as I discussed previously – a kit that lets anyone set up an interference-proof (for the moment, and certainly over the short term) broadband network to get their message out. The west was never so concerned for the message of rebellions before – why is it now? Because it’s an effective tool for destabilizing governments. We’re seeing it now in Libya, where only one side of the story is told, and massive rallies in support of the leader are virtually ignored in favour of gibberish from the disorganized rebels who make up less than 1.6% of the population. What’s the slightest bit democratic about favouring the interests of a tiny minority over those of the majority? Isn’t that pretty much the opposite of democracy?

    So no, I don’t believe the internet is some kind of western plot, the sort of oversimplified rejoinder you seem particularly fond of. But every western institution, from law enforcement to retailers to politicians has learned to use the power of the internet to advantage. Is it some sort of knee-slapping comedy to suggest the State Department and the Intelligence services have done the same?

    Every Russian election cycle, we see the same thing – the liberal opposition figures pumped up in the western press as if they were God’s gift to politics, totally at odds with the low esteem in which they are held by their own electorate. All their criticisms of the government are repeated in breathless fascination, as if criticism were a plan. Do me a favour, will you – give me your synopsis of Boris Nemtsov’s plan for Russia. Russia under Putin and Medvedev has failed to fold up and die as frequently forecast, but I’m sure Nemtsov has a plan to make it even better. So let’s hear it. I’d really like to know, because all I ever hear from him is what a catastrophe Russia was under Putin, and is under Medvedev.

    Fortunately, commenters Giuseppe Flavio and Grafomanka have already addressed FDI, and we already covered shale gas, because this is starting to turn into a novel. I await your reply.

  7. Kozakov says:

    Round 2 starts off quite nicely for the Kremlin Stooge, showing a lot of respect for his adversary he leads in with a couple of nice left jabs….

  8. yalensis says:

    More about my new obsession = Libya war, but this time I swear there is a Russian connection. I read this yesterday. At first, reading the headline, I thought it was a joke or parody, and I am still not 100% sure about the legitimacy, but I did google this lot, and they claim to be a respectable intelligence-analysis organization with some slightly-suspicious Israeli (=Mossad?) connections.
    [Which, by the way, jives with another article I read a few days ago, that Gaddafy had been in secret negotiations with Israel. I forgot to save the link, but apparently Gaddafy sent an emissary to Israel to deliver a DVD to Tzipi Livni personally. The DVD contained some kind of compromising evidence against the Benghazi rebels. I am guessing evidence of rebels’ anti-Israeli, al-Qaeda connections? To which Tzipi probably responded: “No shit…”]
    In any case, the basic thesis of this article is that the Libya war is pretty much over, France is ready to throw in the towel, the proof of the pudding is that Obama out-sourced the clean-up job to Medvedev:

    Bar the shouting, the war in Libya virtually ended Thursday morning, July 14, when US President Barack Obama called Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to hand Moscow the lead role in negotiations with Muammar Qaddafi for ending the conflict – provided only that the Libyan ruler steps down in favor of a transitional administration.
    The US president thus accepted the Russian-Libyan formula for ending the war over the heads of the NATO chiefs who rejected it when they met Russian leaders at the Black Sea resort of Sochi last week.

    Authors point out that this is the same plan proposed by Gaddafy himself 4 months ago, but at the time NATO rejected it, full of cockiness that they could bring the tyrant down by bombing his ass for a couple of weeks. Now, somewhat chastened by their own hubris, they have to go crawling to Russians to pull their chestnuts out of the fire.
    Authors contend that NATO bombing campaign has essentially ended:

    From Saturday, July 9, DEBKAfile’s military sources report, NATO discontinued its air strikes against Libyan pro-government targets in Tripoli and other places. The halt though unannounced was nonetheless an admission that 15,000 flight missions and 6,000 bombardments of Qaddafi targets had failed to achieve their object: Col. Qaddafi, without deploying a single fighter jet, firing an anti-air missile or activating terrorist cells in Europe, had waited for NATO to run out of steam and was still in power.

    I hope this is all true. I am slightly skeptical, because just yesterday there was news that rebels and NATO launched a joint military campaign to re-take the key oil town of Brega from Gaddafy troops. So, NATO has not exactly skipped away with its tail between its legs. They are still desperately hoping for some kind of radical breakthrough before Ramadan, which starts in a couple of weeks, I believe.

    • marknesop says:

      Although he remains tremendously influential in Libyan affairs and politics, unless I am mistaken Gaddafi holds no official title or position in the Libyan government. Therefore it will be quite difficult for him to be seen as having “stepped down”. Unless it has been specified that his son may not succeed him, although I can’t see Libya agreeing to that. I wonder if the warrant by the Criminal Court will remain outstanding, for war crimes? Gee, if so, it’ll be a busy week at the ol’ Criminal Court, when they indict Hosni Mubarek and King Abdullah and Benjamin Netanyahu as well.

      It would almost be worth buying a ticket to Paris just to make a YouTube video of myself in front of the Arc de Triomphe, making fun of Sarkozy for starting this mess by prematurely recognizing the rebel government. If I didn’t think it’d get me labeled a nutcase and possibly institutionalized, the next time there was a riot by French Muslims I would write to the Canadian Prime Minister, urging him to recognize them as the legitimate government of France. But I suppose that’s just spite, because I have nothing against the people of France, and I don’t see Sarkozy surviving the next vote anyway.

      We’ll find out in the next few days if there’s any truth to it, because the objectives will gradually change so that NATO can claim success. It’s certainly interesting.

      • Misha says:

        His official title is along the lines of “Leader of the Libyan Revolution.”

        During the Brzehnev era, I recall Radio Moscow referring to Khadafy as such.

        Over the years, Khadafy periodically takes issue with the view of Libya having a “government” in the traditional definition of that term.

        • marknesop says:

          Yes, the “Jamahiriya” government model was adopted in 1977, and Libya is supposed to be a “Direct Democracy” with no political parties, run by governing councils. Probably the world would be content to leave him to what they perceive as his madness, were it not that he is a prominent African nationalist and agitator for a close and strong union of African states. That, and the rumored interest of the USA in establishing AFRICOM in an African state where none has yet shown willing to host it. And the hardly-needs-mentioning qualification of its being a petro-state that also has large supplies of fresh water in a generally arid region.

          • Misha says:

            In recent years, he has stressed Libya’s African as opposed to Arab ties.

            Given the Arab League stance taken towards him, there’s a bit of a falling out.

            • Misha says:

              US Formally Recognizes Libya Rebels

              Stressing an objective to offset some growing apprehension.

              • marknesop says:

                The breathless arrogance of this recognition process still slays me – that other major world powers can simply select your government for you and announce that if you want to do business, you have to do it through the yobs we picked for you instead of the people you chose. This’ll be a big feather in Sarkozy’s cap. There seems to be a huge media/diplomatic push on to try and topple Gaddafi, and I hope he doesn’t fall for it. Success will only offer encouragement for moving on to whatever nation is next on the Arab Spring list.

              • yalensis says:

                This formal recognition of Benghazi jihadists as “legitimate” government is nonsense, and everyone knows it. However, it was a legally necessary ruse to allow USA and Turkey to free up several billions of dollars in frozen Libyan assets. Having stolen this $$$ from legitimate Libyan government, they will now give to the rebels so that rebels can cut paychecks and stay alive for a couple more weeks.
                By the way, @mark, you might be interested that your government (Canada) is still resisting to play this ridiculous game of recognition of the ragtags.
                Also, ragtag/NATO attempt to take oil-refining city of Brega failed. (I read the news earlier today on AP wire.)
                Pundits say that after Ramadan starts (in a couple of weeks), rebels won’t be able to fight any more, because they will be fasting all day, and this will make them physically weak. Duh! (One of the many reasons I would not make a good Muslim: I could maybe give up booze if I had to, but I could not stand to go without eating all day…)

                • marknesop says:

                  “By the way, @mark, you might be interested that your government (Canada) is still resisting to play this ridiculous game of recognition of the ragtags.”

                  Ahhh….if only that were true. In reality, the USA only has to muse that it is “thinking about it” for Canada to jump in with both feet. In fact, we recognized the rebel “government” more than a month ago. I still haven’t gotten over the photo of our Foreign Minister grinning and shaking hands with former-al-Jazeera-stooge and sometime Washington exile (I swear they must have an entire district of leaders-in-waiting in Washington) Mahmoud Shammam.

                  Meanwhile. check out the story on His Vorpal Sword; some guy thought he was alone in a public park, and decided to give his winkie a little airing out. One thing led to another and, well…Anyway, although he thought he was alone, he was caught on a security camera. Somebody said they thought that was just disgraceful or something, he was fired from his job, had to pay a fine, and has to register forever as a sex offender. That part is quite far down in the piece; Hart is fond of long stories, but he’s quite a writer, and I’ve never complained

                  When the Mooslim Terra’ists impose Sharia Law on the USA in a few years, it might be welcome. In fact, it might look quite liberal by comparison.

            • marknesop says:

              Well, as I’ve suggested before, I hope the Arab League goes down in flames over this. There’s no reason any Arab nation should ever trust them again.

  9. democratist says:

    Working on it. May take a while.

  10. democratist says:

    You cover a lot of bases. Here is my reply to your main points;

    Democracy as process

    “democracy is the best political system for a free and self-determinant people who are sufficiently informed to be aware of their rights and responsibilities in a democracy.”

    Democracy is an ongoing process. Unlike communism (which was a goal), there is no end point. It is a continual process of refinement that takes place through the development of institutions. A “people” never reaches a permanent state of being “free and self-determinant,” it is a continual battle, a continual process of improvement in the face of the bad policy, corruption and sectional interests which inevitably affect all societies. But needless to say, where these democratic institutions do not exist those problems are far harder to address.

    Democracy and Russia

    “the relationship between the west (chiefly the USA, but not entirely and not even including all of the USA’s institutions) and Russia is not like the relationship between the west and any other country. I agree that democracy is generally a gift the west is eager to bestow on many countries, because it’s generally good for the population and good for trade and business. Not in the case of Russia. I don’t mean the benefits would not be good for Russia; I mean the intent is not to empower Russians for their benefit, but to create a destabilization problem for the government and to prevent Russia from increasing its influence. “

    I think this rather confused and contradictory passage gets to the core of your position, and (I suspect) probably sums up the attitude of many within the nomenklatura on this issue.
    You seem to agree the benefits of democracy (for the population, trade and business) would be good for Russia, but state that “the intent is not to empower Russians for their benefit, but to create a destabilization problem for the government and to prevent Russia from increasing its influence.”

    There are two related points here, both commonly used as a form of self-legitimization by the nomenklatura; that the West wishes to impose democracy on Russia to weaken it, and that the “stability” and “international influence” provided by the government are of greater benefit to the Russian people than those that would be provided under more democratic rule.

    So the main questions are i) Would democratic rule have weakened Russia during the last decade and ii) were the “stability” and “international influence” provided by the government of greater benefit to the Russian people than those that would be provided under democratic rule?
    You will not be surprised to hear that my answer is “no” on both counts;

    As mentioned above, democratic institutions provide a deeper and more comprehensive way of dealing with internal problems than autocracy – see “Karl Popper” by Bryan Magee (1973) on this point – and are critical for (among other things) the rule of law, the fight against corruption/organized crime, promotion of economic competition and the development of a diversified economy (all serious issues in Russia).

    Much has been made in Russia over the last decade of the chaos of the 1990’s, but I would contend that the growth which has occurred in Russia since 2000 has had more to do with high prices for raw materials since than the “stability” that emerged under Putin. And while raw materials provided growth, many underlying problems from the Yeltsin era have become worse. If the oil tide does go out in a big way, those problems will come home to roost.

    This line of thinking is hardly revolutionary; it was partly the basis for Putin/Medvedev’s “modernization” drive. There is no evidence that the growth of the last decade would not have taken place under a democratic system which would also have allowed many of the above- mentioned problems to be addressed.

    Equally, there is no evidence Russia would be less influential internationally as a more democratic state. Relations under democracy would be better with the US, the EU and Ukraine. FDI inflow would be far higher, technological modernization a reality, growth considerably higher than the current 3% (according to Kudrin in April).

    I guess it depends on how you define “influence.” If “influence” means “being able to put military/political/economic pressure on others” then Russia might have less as a democracy, or be less inclined to use it. On the other hand, Russia is not really in an especially advantageous position in that regard after 11 years of Putin: the military remains very weak (due to corruption in arms procurement and development, and within the services themselves), and strong political/economic influence seems mostly limited to central Asia, Belarus and Armenia. Much of the current government’s hope for spreading Russian influence in the future relies on raw materials. But as the prices for these drop, so does the influence (as has been the case with gas of late).

    So, whose interest is being served when you say democracy would not empower Russians? The Russian people’s, or that of the elite which controls the state? Or are the Russian people simply an adjunct to the state, as you seem to imply?

    And if Putin wants to get the liberals out of the western press, and he really believes they are a bunch of clowns, he should just let them stand. Then they won’t have a leg to stand on, will they? Perhaps he’s more worried than he’s letting on.

    • democratist says:

      China Vs Russia as Intel threat

      “China is a thousand times more aggressive in anti-US/anti-west covert activity – especially in the areas of R&D and network hacking – than Russia”
      Well I’m not so sure. Intelligence questions are difficult to judge for obvious reasons. But if Russia is currently less aggressive towards the West, this may be because of a number of recent Russian intelligence failures (both of Humint and Sigint). So, this is more a question of current Russian capability (which seems increasingly limited) than intent. As SVR Chief Mikhail Fradkov is reported as having stated in an ITAR-TASS article on 28th December 2010; “In the foreseeable future, the SVR’s workload will not be diminishing…the SVR provides active assistance to the task to modernize our country…the intelligence service is making a palpable contribution to the development of the national science, technological and defense potential.”

      Russia, China and WTO

      Are you sure that the fact that China is in the WTO and Russia is not, is simply a question of favoritism on the part of “the West”? Personally I think there are many domestic reasons why the Russian business and political elite (often the same thing) might be wary of joining: One factor is that domestic industry in Russia knows that it will find it very difficult to compete with foreign imports under current circumstances, and understands that the political system and corruption make the modernization needed to be competitive very difficult. As a Vedmosti editorial said on 11th April 2011, “…the government of Russia and Putin himself bear at least part of the blame for the state of affairs where Russia cannot make use of any WTO advantages. As happened on several occasions already, the moment Russia approached the coveted membership, Putin pulled off something unexpected that caused a delay or detour… All speculations on how Russia is kept out of the WTO are really a smoke-screen designed to conceal the lack of genuine interest in the membership. Russian businesses keep seeing the WTO as a threat. The Russian leadership has but a dim awareness of the advantages that go with the membership but know that at the very least it will require transparency of the kind Russia is not accustomed to. There is no powerful group of interests in Russia interested in the WTO membership.”

      Democracy Promotion

      “Democracy initiatives, as you have suggested, have been cynically employed as destabilization tactics. You need look no further than Egypt for example – the revolution complete (role of Facebook duly noted), now rudderless and adrift.”

      Well I’m not convinced that the US has employed democracy initiatives as a “destabilization tactic” during the Arab Spring. Where’s the proof? Who did what, where and when? As I said before, (and as we agree) democracy is an integral part of capitalist modernity, and I have the impression that the populations of those countries want democratic representation despite American hypocrisy and realpolitik in the region. There is no proof whatsoever of any CIA plot, and your insistence that these people have been manipulated from outside is just a cover for the long-term precariousness of the situation in Russia itself.

      However, while I reject the neocon idiocy of pretending one can export democracy at the barrel of a gun, there is certainly a case for encouraging democratic development, especially, as we both agree, developing capitalism implies a certain degree of determinism on this issue.

      As Michael McFaul writes in Advancing Democracy Abroad (2009) “American security, economic and moral interests have been advanced by the expansion of democracy abroad, while reliance on realpolitik frameworks [i.e. alliances with autocracies] as a guide for foreign policy has produced some short-term gains, but many long-term setbacks for American interests.”

      According to McFaul, instruments the US and its allies have available for the gradualist facilitation of democratic development include;”dual track” diplomatic engagement; trade and economic incentives; security guarantees, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the US’ participation in the OSCE, funding for foreign domestic NGOs and election observers, media resources such as Radio Free Europe, and the International Republican and National Democratic Institutes.

      We may add the organizational tools of Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and Skype to the list of facilitating factors for democratization. However, these are not tools directly in the power of the US, but rather the public in democratizing states. But these tools make the idea of democracy as an integral component of capitalist modernity all the more plausible and obtainable, and this will doubtless spur the Americans on.

      • democratist says:


        “As far back as 2009, the U.S. State Department intervened in scheduled maintenance of Twitter (then in its infancy) to prevent the service being withdrawn when it was being used to influence the Iranian elections.”

        Yes. But while the US may have ensured Twitter continued to function during the Iranian demonstrations against vote-rigging back in 2009, that is hardly a “democracy initiative” (nor is it especially “cynical” compared with – say – rigging an election and then shooting people when they protest). The US did not organize the protests, it intervened in an attempt to ensure they were co-ordinated (which they were) and successful (which they were not).


        Democracy has emerged as a powerful force with a strong appeal in countries that have reached a certain level of development, but where their governments are not able to adequately provide for most people’s material needs, and especially where poverty and decadent wealth sit side by side (corruption).

        The emergence of the internet is equally an aspect of capitalist modernity which further facilitates democratization.

        By the time the government decides to shut off the internet because it is worried about revolt, it is already too late; chances are the society has already evolved beyond the model of governance such a state can offer, and beyond the point that concessions can be made while remaining in power.

        While the US may seek to promote democracy through the methods McFaul mentions, there is no proof that it deliberately sets out to destabilize governments through democratic revolution. The principle causes of destabilization in the Arab Spring and Colour revolutions were internal.

        But the US (and others) may attempt, after a state has been destabilized, to get rid of a weakened rival militarily where it feels it is safe to do so. Example: Libya (2011). In other cases (Ukraine, Iran, Tunisia, Egypt) intervention is more diplomatic.
        Russia and China are also likely to receive more diplomatic treatment in this regard because they are both nuclear powers.

        But, because of the nature of their regimes and lack of resources, neither China nor Russia are able to take advantage of the weakness of other states as a result of democratic revolutions to the same extent as the US, and will also come under pressure to change internally if they prove unable to meet their people’s expectations.

        The Americans will take advantage of these processes, as the opportunity arises, but they will not be the underlying cause of them.

        • democratist says:

          Appendix: Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)

          It is interesting that you don’t comment on FDI, as the issue made up the bulk of your original article. Are you saying you agree with Flavio and Grafomanka 100%?

          Grafomanka does not say much on the subject.

          Flavio says, “FDI is an uncertain quantity, difficult to measure and that changes dramatically if you slightly change the measuring criteria.
          The Democratist is using an old propaganda device: take some economic indicator which isn’t good for the target country, blow it out of proportion, predict a sudden collapse. An uncertain and volatile indicator is best suited for this purpose, because hard data is not easily manipulated.”

          Well, I’ve been quoting Kudrin and UniCredit. As far as I can tell they are using the same formulation to calculate the figures. If you or Flavio wish to check, and explain how I have blown the figures “out of proportion”, be my guests. It also seems that Flavio did not read my original article, since I have never predicted a sudden collapse for Russia, and certainly not in the article cited, which specifically concluded that crisis was not on the cards. My original point was that lack of FDI was having a negative impact on Medvedev’s modernization program. Since, according to the E&Y report you cite, only 2% of FDI projects into Russia in 2010 involved R&D (vs. 8% for Europe as a whole) I think the point still stands.

          • marknesop says:

            Whew! You’ve given me quite a project. I’ll try and tackle them one at a time. To begin with, yes and no. Yes, I do agree with Giuseppe and Grafomanka 100% – Grafomanka, that FDI really doesn’t have anything to do with democracy, and Giuseppe that FDI is an extremely fluid concept that is difficult to quantify. But no, I don’t think that is the whole story and that no other response was needed – just that it had already been discussed to some extent, and my response was getting too long. That just seemed like a good place to stop.

            “My original point was that lack of FDI was having a negative impact on Medvedev’s modernization program… I think the point still stands.”

            Well, sorry, but I don’t think it does. You can certainly argue that Medvedev’s modernization program is taking too long, or having mixed success, or whatever. Just as long as you don’t tie it to FDI, which really has very little impact on Medvedev’s agenda vis-a-vis reform. The cost of reform efforts was included in the budget before very much could be known about what FDI would look like in 2011, and in truth we are going to have to wait to see how right you were, because getting an accurate appraisal of FDI in 2011 before 2011 is over appears hopeless. 2010 is the latest for which I could obtain figures by quarters, and although it was not very good compared to the boom years, it was an improvement on 2009.

            Medvedev intends to pay for reform efforts through a combination of staffing cuts for inefficient organizations, tax reform, selling off of federal assets into the private sector and internal direct investment via public/oprivate partnerships. Although more FDI would certainly be welcome, and I can’t think of a country that would turn it down, Medvedev is prepared to pay for his reform agenda without relying on FDI, and Russia has considerable money in the bank that could be tapped for that purpose if required. There is no particular reason to speculate a lack of FDI will in any way curtail the reform process. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest Russia realizes it will continue to lose billions in FDI without modernizing and reforming, and understands the importance of offering Multi-National Corporations (MNC’s) a stable investment environment.

            Moreover, there is still no solid evidence to imply 2011 will be a lousy year for FDI. Research & Markets’ Business Wire reports “accelerating Foreign Direct Investment”, with a positive effect on sales of various products resulting in projected growth in retail sales to $768.11 billion USD by 2015. Major investment commitments by BP and Pepsico got 2011 off to a strong start, and there remains no reason to disbelieve the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development’s World Investment Prospects Survey 2010 – 2012 that placed Russia fifth in the world’s top priority host economies for FDI.

            While we’re looking at those charts, we may as well dispense with another canard – the notion that you must have a stable economy to attract FDI. It’s certainly desirable, but evidently not necessary considering the United States was ranked the “most promising investor country over the next 3 years” while its economy is tottering and its credit rating is about to be downgraded if its political leaders cannot reach an agreement on the debt ceiling.

            The discrepancy between Kudrin’s figures (provided they are projections and not actuals) and more optimistic forecasts is easily explainable; Kudrin is the quintessential fiscal conservative when it comes to planning, and consistently underestimates by around 20% of others’ more optimistic projections. He based his budget on oil selling at around 65.00 per barrel (this reference suggests $75.00, but I am quite sure it was even lower than that), while it was actually selling above $90.00 and is today at $97.49 for WTI and $118.32 for Brent crude.

            I feel you are sincere, and that you believe democracy is the engine that will drive progress for developing countries; I believe that, too. But I believe the west’s intentions for Russia are to wrestle it down and break it up into more manageable chunks, as is suggested in the oft-voiced forecasts that in the near future, Russia will have shrunk to only Moscow. As long as the people who live there don’t share anticipation of such a goal, attempts to make it happen are not democracy.

            Russia is said to lose a significant amount of potential FDI every year because it won’t improve its infrastructure and the state won’t trust foreign partners with a controlling interest. But every improvement is panned as “not enough”, and foreign partners like Bill Browder of Hermitage Capital Management give business pep talks back home about how they bought up undervalued companies, ruined them and then pocketed the swag when the state moved in to clean up the mess.

            • democratist says:

              “You can certainly argue that Medvedev’s modernization program is taking too long, or having mixed success, or whatever. Just as long as you don’t tie it to FDI, which really has very little impact on Medvedev’s agenda vis-a-vis reform.”

              I never have claimed FDI was the only factor in relation to the problems of Russian modernization, or the only way to pay for modernization. There are other problems, and other sources of cash. But certainly lack of FDI is a significant factor, and a potentially useful source of funding. It also seems especially important for technology transfer, which has been a centre-piece of Medvedev’s campaign (Skolkovo).

              “There is no particular reason to speculate a lack of FDI will in any way curtail the reform process. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest Russia realizes it will continue to lose billions in FDI without modernizing and reforming, and understands the importance of offering Multi-National Corporations (MNC’s) a stable investment environment.”

              I actually said;

              “Given an ongoing lack of FDI, and reluctance to the introduction of the political and economic reforms required for a more diversified and efficient economy, the elite will continue to hope that a recovery in hydrocarbon prices will allow Russia to maintain an ”energy and raw materials” development path…”

              From my perspective, the lack of FDI results from western scepticism towards the crrent government of Russia (which is mostly justified) but I am afraid I have not seen much evidence that Russia is about to reform. My original thesis was (and remains);

              “many in the nomenklatura, grown rich under Putin on the proceeds of corruption, are implacably opposed both to reform itself (which threatens their privileged position) and even more so to the implied political reforms which would be the backbone of an innovative economy…”

              “Moreover, there is still no solid evidence to imply 2011 will be a lousy year for FDI.”

              We will see.

              “While we’re looking at those charts, we may as well dispense with another canard – the notion that you must have a stable economy to attract FDI.”

              Perhaps. Guess it depends what you mean by “stable”. But, as I said, we will see if Russia has what it takes to recover FDI levels over the coming year(s). As I said, it does not look like FDI will return to pre-crisis levels any time soon.

              “The discrepancy between Kudrin’s figures (provided they are projections and not actuals).”

              Well I think they were actuals for pre-2008, and and partial estimation for 2010. The figure for the first quarter of 2011 was from UniCredit.

              “the west’s intentions for Russia are to wrestle it down and break it up into more manageable chunks, as is suggested in the oft-voiced forecasts that in the near future, Russia will have shrunk to only Moscow. As long as the people who live there don’t share anticipation of such a goal, attempts to make it happen are not democracy.”

              I do not feel that the introduction of democracy into Russia would weaken it – quite the opposite, but the main losers from democratization would be the elite (whose “fear” of the West, and “love” for Russia can be assessed by the number of houses they own in London and Monaco, where they send their children to school and university, and where they bank). When you say “the west’s intentions for Russia are to wrestle it down and break it up into more manageable chunks” you need to produce some evidence that democracy would have such an effect on Russia. Indeed, isn’t there a case that without democracy, existing problems will worsen and these will effect Russia profoundly over the long term, perhaps leading to the breakup you fear?

              • marknesop says:

                “Perhaps” is fine, I’ll take perhaps – it’s a quite realistic recognition that one of us is just as likely to be right as the other. Similarly, “we’ll see” is welcome, as indeed we will. The position from which I am negotiating is that perhaps we’ll see what FDI is like at the end of 2011, although first-quarter indications offer reason for optimism.

                Of course when Kudrin is talking actuals, he is quoting figures that are already a matter of record. Therefore, he is to be believed when he says, “This is what happened in 2010”. But as I suggested, he is extremely conservative and prefers to low-ball his projections to avoid sunny forecasts that look unreasonably optimistic against reality. Deals entered into between Russia and multinationals such as Pepsico and BP are not figured in his projections because they have not yet produced anything, and they may come to nothing; who knows? But their effect will not be reckoned until year-end, so suggestions a “lack of FDI” is “ongoing” merely represents your projection of what FDI will do over 2011. I just feel more optimistic than you evidently do, and of course I could be wrong. If I am, a lot of financial analysts will be just as disappointed as I.

                The 2009/2010 period was an anomaly, an abrupt drop in FDI figures that had been growing by leaps and bounds since 2000 – a drop which largely mimicked fiscal performance all over the world, which is why it was called a global financial crisis instead of a Russian financial crisis. Russia was hit very hard indeed, but was given credit by every major financial analysis centre for the remarkable quickness of its recovery. It is now nearly back at pre-crisis levels in other financial aspects, so it is reasonable to expect FDI will recover as well, given the direction it went in between 2000 – 2008.

                By way of contrast, the global financial crisis exposed weaknesses and fault lines in the European Union whose effects are still being felt. Britain imposed the most severe austerity guidelines since the war; Greece collapsed, and Italy may well follow suit. This is in nobody’s best interests, since in crash economics oil nearly always takes a dive, and that’d be bad for Russia. But I mention it because it serves as an example of how much better Russia had its financial house in order than many of the old, established democracies. A nation that is fiscally responsible is likely to be watching all the angles and unlikely to miss opportunities to increase its influence or consolidate its strength.

                What makes you think Russia isn’t already a democracy? It could certainly tighten up a few things here and there, but by and large its democratic efforts are similar to those in other countries who are accorded the solemn respect of democracies of long standing. Russian voter turnout consistently outstrips that of both the United States and the United Kingdom, sometimes by embarrassing levels. I’m sure there are instances of vote-rigging and undue influence – but those conditions prevail in American elections as well, and nobody says a word. A great number of extremely suspicious irregularities attended the “first democratic elections” in Iraq, but politicians in the U.S. were proudly holding up their purple fingers and falling into each others’ arms in an ecstasy of accomplishment.

                The west has buried a good many of its old grudges, but has never stopped thinking of Russia as the enemy, and treats it accordingly. All initiatives are regarded with suspicion, although the Russian Federation has not attacked anyone (please don’t suggest Russia attacked Georgia, because that’s simply not so) since its inception and the 1993 doctrinal announcement ushered in a deliberate downgrading to a regional power which renounced imperial ambition. By contrast, the USA is currently engaged in two wars and seems to have considerable appetite for a third, and in the last decade has happily held Israel’s coat while it kicked the shit out of Lebanon and Gaza.

                The west plainly does not like the idea of a united Russian Federation being the world’s largest energy power, although it happily proclaims its partnership with Saudi Arabia – which is about as far from a democracy as you can get. If you’d like to see how democratic Russia is, proclaim a law that Russian women are not permitted to drive cars, and must be veiled in public, and see what you get for a response.

                I agree genuine democracy would be a benefit for everyone. But what is being agitated for in the Caucasus, for example, is not democracy – it is stirring up and enabling of militant movements the west unquestionably would not itself want for neighbour, in an ongoing effort to keep Russia busy quelling rebellions and providing grist for the atrocity mill. If the west truly feels sorry for these people, it should offer to accept them all as refugees, and give them a good life in the west. What a stirring example of democracy that would be, not to mention dropping the Russian population by about 5 million in one fell swoop. That’s assuming everyone would want to go, which is by no means certain, although doubtless they are all tired of violence. They should ask themselves who has their best interests at heart – the country that keeps propping them up with billions in subsidies, or the one that keeps whispering “revolution” in their ear.

                • democratist says:

                  Well, I think we should draw this one to a close. I could go on, but I would mostly just be repeating myself. Needless to say, I don’t see any overriding reason to change my original article. As for Russia already “being a democracy,” like a said, democracy is a process.

                  It will be interesting to see how much progress is made towards the goal of Russian democratization in the forthcoming elections.

                  I like the term “energy power.” I think it needs some definition. It could be the basis of a new article: What it would mean, how would it work etc. Also you might consider a new piece about “the West” stirring up the caucasus – I would like to see some evidence on that.

                  Until next time…

                • marknesop says:

                  I’d still like to answer your other segments, since there were some provocative statements in there that might be of interest to others, but I likely won’t get to it until tomorrow at the earliest. And although the aim was never to get you to change your article at all, merely to address disagreements I have with it, I agree that there’s little purpose in arguing over the impact of FDI now when it will be clear enough this winter.

                  Democracy is indeed an evolving process, and citizens will want more and more freedoms until the unrestricted exercise of freedom begins to permit some to gain advantage over others – at which point the weak or the disadvantaged will want more laws to level the playing field. But Russia exercises a free vote to choose its leaders and, while there are unarguably some irregularities, the people’s choice prevails in the vast majority of cases as evidenced by advance and exit polls. You suggest advance polls can “be rigged”. Really? What would be the purpose of saying you were going to vote for someone, knowing all the time you were going to vote differently? If that were the case, there’d be no purpose to polling at all. But the stubborn insistence by western think tanks and “freedom organizations” that Russia is “not free” or “partially free” while the west cozies up to monarchies and dictatorships when it suits its foreign policy or strategic interests just looks hypocritical. An excellent example was the Iran-Iraq war, when the USA sold weapons to both sides.

                  If you mean energy power in the sense of bringing political pressure to bear through the use of energy resources, indeed it would make an interesting article, and many already suggest the Kremlin uses its energy clout to unfairly influence regional politics. What I find comical is the implication that the west would be too pure and good to use such an advantage for political purposes such as forcing regime change, were it in the driver’s seat. The fact is the west will use any advantage it perceives to suit its aims, and rationalizes that since it has only the best of intentions, meddling is excusable. I’m sure few have forgotten how Ukraine was suddenly accepted for accession to the WTO just as Yushchenko was facing a tough election, despite having consistently been rated horribly for corruption and suffering rankings that slid even lower under Yushchenko – it was plainly a bid to influence the election in his favour. If the west was so lucky as to be direct manager over vast energy resources, there’s no doubt in my mind it would employ “energy power” to get its way. People are people, and we all have the same failings and weaknesses.

                  I’d love to do a post on how the west is stirring the pot in the Caucasus, but there is thus far nothing that comes close to the standard of proof. There’s the lionization of Caucasian martyrs in the western press – but that’s arguably just editorial preference. There’s the daily demonization of Kremlin leadership choices, also in the western press, but I wouldn’t like the job of trying to argue that Ramzan Kadyrov is not really a vicious thug.

                  But if you’re fond of puzzles – here’s one for you. Why is it that politicians and oligarchs draw knowing smirks when they own property or assets in the west – as if they were somehow betraying Russia by so doing (with which attitude you appear to sympathize, judging by your alacrity at Peter’s response) – but academics, professors and sociologists who study in the west are praised and their word accepted as holy writ on their previous country when they move to the west?

                  I’ll close with a snatch of poetry from one of my favourite dead authors – Shel Silverstein.

                  “Please don’t tell me I should hug
                  Don’t tell me I should care.
                  Don’t tell me just how grand I’d feel
                  If i just learned to share.
                  Don’t say, “It’s all right to cry”,
                  “Be kind”, “Be fair”, “Be true”.
                  Just let me see you do it
                  Then I just might do it too.”

                  I’m sure our paths will cross again. Until then, best regards.

        • marknesop says:

          I’ll get to this and your China/WTO post as soon as I can; I want to be thorough, but I’m also preparing to go away for a few days. Believe me, I haven’t forgotten.

      • Misha says:

        NED, RFE/RL and your overall advocacy would be better accepted in Russia if it weren’t so slanted against that country.

        A case in point is how you uncritically refer to a linguistic Russification of Ukraine, which doesn’t appear to be as grand as the Angloization of Ireland and Scotland – an aspect that seems to get downplayed – when comparing how both situations are generally covered. Mind you, that Russians and Ukrainians are linguistically and ethnically more related to each other than English and Scots and English and Irish.

        On another point raised upwards: yes, democracy is an ongoing process. The situation in Russia isn’t final. The democracy promotion of responsibly patriotic Russian views has a better chance of succeeding when compared to slanted against Russia positions.

    • Misha says:

      It wouldn’t have been so propagandistic for RT and Russian language mass media at large to cover the Canadian government denying entry to law abiding citizens from Western countries – as what was recently experienced by Srdja Trifkovic.

      To my knowledge, RT didn’t cover that heavy-handed political act, while giving coverage to Luke Harding initially getting denied entry into Russia, over a bureacratic snafu on Harding’s part.

      There’re signs that elements in Russian media are influenced by some of the not so objective conditions evident in English language mass media.

      Another point having to do with democracy is addressed further below.

  11. democratist says:

    And good evening to you.

  12. Kozakov says:

    Rounding out round 2, the Democratist throws a couple of good left jabs himself, primarily by way of querying his opponent about his reluctance to continue his original thrust of pursuing the FDI issue. He finishes the round by soundly landing the first bona fide ‘power punch’ of the match, solidifying his stance by insisting that his figures are
    indeed trustworthy, being obtained from the reputable soures of Kudrin and UniCredit. I have confidence though, that the Kremlin Stooge will come out swinging hard in the 3rd round, starting with his own impressive jabs, looking to score his first ‘power punch’ too!
    Stay tuned for more great action!

  13. Misha says:

    Latest RP panel on the political situation in Russia:

  14. yalensis says:


    “I still haven’t gotten over the photo of our Foreign Minister grinning and shaking hands with former-al-Jazeera-stooge and sometime Washington exile (I swear they must have an entire district of leaders-in-waiting in Washington) Mahmoud Shammam.”

    Shammam?? That’s not a name, that’s a cheap pun!
    Re. Exiles…. Yeah, I think Americans collect all these types from all over the world and keep them around, probably pay them a monthly stipend, just in case they need them in the future to return to their own countries and pretend to be somebody’s government…
    American neo-cons have this concept of “Revolution in a Box”. Then, if revolution succeeds, they have this concept “Government in a Box”. The box arrives in a NATO bomber, all wrapped up with a ribbon, you open the box, and all these quislings jump out and demand more money. For example, just today, Benghazi ragtags demanded 3 billion $$ from Hillary Clinton. And she will hand the $$ over to them.
    This is not American taxpayer $$$ in this case, it is money belonging to Libyan people from oil revenues. We will see if Americans can keep track of how it is spent, their accounting methods (allude to Iraq war) have not always been the best.

  15. Kozakov says:

    It appears that the flurry of punches thrown by the Democratist at the end of round 2 (Democracy & Russia, China vs Russia as Intel Threat, Russia China & WTO, Democracy Promotion, Iran & FDI), may have caused a small opening over the left eye of his opponent, The Kremlin Stooge.
    It’s not clear yet, the extent of the damage, although a few droplets of blood can be seen dripping from the injured area. Having one of the top ‘cut men’ in the game, Rodrigo Russinovych, one can only hope that the Stooge will be able to come back to take on his worthy adversary in round 3. It would be a shame to cancel this spirited sporting event, due to a small
    cut. ..Stay tuned,,,,,

    • Sam says:

      I have no idea what you are saying (and why) and feel free to continue with the sporting commentaries but I personally find them annoying.

      • Kozakov says:

        Sam – Mark sort of set the tone for this encounter between himself and the Democratist when he invited me to be sure to follow it: ‘on the occasion of that dust-up* with Democratist (and stay tuned, because another is coming shortly.’ Sort of put me in the mood, for my round by round color commentary. If round 3 doesn’t start soon, the ‘dust up’ may have to be postponed to another time….

        *dust up: (Informal) fight, conflict, argument, set-to (informal), encounter, brush, scrap (informal), quarrel, skirmish, tussle, punch-up (Brit. informal), fracas, shindig.

  16. Misha says:


    Observing how some cover a given exchange can become a subject unto itself.

    Regarding boxing calls:

  17. yalensis says:

    On Libya:
    Now things are starting to get very serious in the NATO bombing. Up until now NATO has kept up the pretence that they were only going after purely military targets, and maybe they were even sincere about that (albeit with the inevitable “collateral damages” occurring from time to time).
    But in the middle of last night, NATO seemed to change tactics by going directly after residential areas in Tripoli. I saw this report, which indicates that something different has started:

    There was something unusual in the pattern of this NATO bombing operation.
    The bombings tonight were not like other nights. The sounds were different. The smoke plumes were different.
    In previous bombings the smoke would usually go up vertically like a fire, but tonight the smoke plumes were horizontal and hovering above Tripoli with a white cloud in the horizon.
    People who were not directly affected by the bombs, within a radius of 15 kilometres experienced burning eyes, lower back pain, headaches.

    Previously there had been other reports that NATO might be using depleted uranium (=bunker busting) bombs, like Americans used in Iraq. These leave behind toxic effects, not as bad as regular radioactivity, but still pretty bad for people and environment.
    There is disturbing possibility that NATO has decided to go Full Monte on Tripoli. Will these bombings continue every night between now and September? (September is when NATO funding for the war ends.)

    • marknesop says:

      I doubt it – nothing in the NATO inventory except gas has such an immediate effect, and depleted uranium can take nearly a generation to show up. Depleted uranium is used because of its extreme density and weight for its size, as a heavy-metal subpenetrator in light-to-medium calibre munitions. It has an extremely bad name now and has been largely replaced by tungsten (completely, in the Canadian inventory, which formerly used DU rounds for the 20mm Phalanx).

      The difference in smoke plumes might be a very unobjective assessment and based on the wind or some other natural explanation. There’s no way NATO would deliberately bomb the civilian population at large with toxic weapons – it couldn’t be hushed up, and would be directly counterproductive. The last thing they need is for countries to start expressing sympathy for Gaddafi, just when they think one more good push will unseat him.

      But the perception NATO is changing its tactics is unlikely to be good for them in any measurable way.

      • yalensis says:

        Thanks for that. You’re right, the smoke could have looked different because of the wind or some other factor. Then maybe somebody got itchy eyes because of the smoke, and that could have started a hysterical chain reaction of people believing that they had been poisoned. In any case, I would never imply that NATO would use depleted uranium bombs just to be mean. Americans used them in Iraq for a practical purpose: to bust through concrete bunkers. If NATO did use them, it would probaby be to go after equipment or troops holed up in bunkers.

        • marknesop says:

          Well, I wouldn’t want to suggest it would never happen, but on a mission like this one there has to be a great deal of sensitivity, because NATO declared at the outset its aim was not regime change, but protection of civilians. Bombing of civilian areas without ironclad proof that there were Gaddafi forces at least near the bombed area is a no-no. In my personal opinion NATO should not be there – although that does not reflect the official position of my government – but there’s no point in whipping up hysteria with crazy stories, and it sounds like that’s what somebody is trying to do. Quite a lot like that ludicrous story that Gaddafi had ordered up railroad cars full of viagra, so his troops could rape women until their dicks wore down to stumps, which quite a few people probably still believe although it was exposed as nonsense.

          However, the U.S. military did use White Phosphorus – known to the Army as Willie Pete – in Fallujah, which under most circumstances (like if somebody like Iran or Russia or an organization like Hezbollah did it) would be a war crime. At least, I’m as sure as I can be without being there, since sources which reported it were generally reliable. White Phosphorus is a horrible weapon, because if you get it on you it continues to burn even if it’s lodged inside you, it’ll burn through clothing and right down into your flesh.

          Anyway, I imagine NATO is being as careful as it reasonably can be in Libya (although of course, accidents happen, like the one that would happen to Gaddafi if he didn’t stay constantly on the move) because it is aware that support hangs by a thread.

          • yalensis says:

            On the other hand, NATO truly is shameless. Yesterday they destroyed the radar at Tripoli International Airport. This is the thing that flight controllers use to make sure airplanes don’t crash into each other during landings and take-offs. NATO claims the radar was being used for “military” purposes, i.e., to track incoming NATO bombers. Therefore, it was fair game. Seems like NATO can rationalize away literally any aggressive act.

  18. a says:

    “Much has been made in Russia over the last decade of the chaos of the 1990’s, but I would contend that the growth which has occurred in Russia since 2000 has had more to do with high prices for raw materials since than the “stability” that emerged under Putin.”

    Not true. If the energy price windfall had happened under Yeltsin, the energy oligarchs would have taken it and leveraged it 30-1 for global business empire-building. They would have lost every kopek in the global financial crash. The Russian central bank would have faced this event with trivial reserves, and tens of millions of Russians would have been rendered utterly destitute.

    But Democratist’s tender sensibilities would not have been outraged by Putin. That’s something, I suppose.

    • democratist says:

      Your argument is that with high raw materials prices, Yeltsin would still have messed up. That might be true but might not. Such a question is speculative and cannot be “proved” either way.

      However, please explain to me how the Russia economy would have grown as it did i the 2000’s with low raw material prices? What other sectors of the economy would have driven growth?

  19. a says:

    “However, please explain to me how the Russia economy would have grown as it did i the 2000′s with low raw material prices? What other sectors of the economy would have driven growth?”

    Russian economic growth was pretty good before the price of oil got out of the $30s. And the energy windfall did not drive economic growth in Russia. Almost all of it was taxed away, and very conservatively invested in T-Bills, Agencies, and other austere paper. This meant that when the excrement struck the ventilating device in 2008, the Russian government could do the Keynes thing as Keynes intended, out of savings instead of going big time into debt. Even now, Russia has the lowest debt as a percentage of GNP in the G-20.

    • peter says:

      And the energy windfall did not drive economic growth in Russia.

      According to Zhuravskaya and Guriev, the “long-term elasticity [of Russia’s GDP to the world oil price] is about 0.2; in other words, an increase in oil price by 10 percent results in a 2 percent increase in Russian GDP. This means that if the price of oil increases from $17 (in 1998, constant 2008 dollars) to $97 per barrel (in 2008), then GDP should go up by a factor of 1.4, or grow at a rate of 3.5 percent a year for 10 years. Therefore, the increasing price of oil explains about one half of Russia’s total growth. If the oil prices had remained constant, then between 1998-2008 the Russian economy would have grown at 3.5 percent a year—a decent growth rate for a country at the economic frontier, but slower than the world’s average, and slower than the average annual growth rate of other successful emerging economies during this period, and certainly well below that of poorly-endowed-with-resources South Korea both eleven years ago or even now.”

        • a says:

          I’m sure an answer that mentions none of the caveats mentioned in the article he linked to completely meets your criteria for “a nice answer.”

          ” and certainly well below that of poorly-endowed-with-resources South Korea both eleven years ago or even now.”

          So, how should Russia acquire the easy access to warm water ports that South Korea has? Or the ~60 years of preferential acces to US markets? Does that count as a resource endowment?

      • AK says:

        1. Correlation =/= causation. Z&G are a joke.

        2. 3.5% growth would be nothing short of stunning for an advanced economy with zero population growth. Korea’s growth from 2003-2008 was at around 4% (less during the years of economic crisis). Korea’s GDP per capita (in PPP terms) in 2003 was the same as Russia’s today.

          • AK says:

            But I’m not a professional economist (unlike Z&G).

            Why do you keep bringing up a very minor error (which is of no consequence to the argument there)? Obviously, had I been writing an academic paper, I’d have taken care to get the terminology right.

            Besides, your error there – converting real GDP into PPP adjusted, whereas you have to use nominal GDP for that – is far more serious and actually sinks your counter-argument.

            • peter says:

              … your error there – converting real GDP into PPP adjusted…

              You cannot be this obtuse, can you? I don’t do anything of the sort — on the contrary, my point is that “to apply today’s PPP multiplier to the projected 2020 [real GDP] figure [as YOU effectively do] is a definite no-no”.

              It’s YOUR 2020 PPP GDP per capita projection ($30,000) that suspiciously coincides with the 2020 real GDP ($15,000) times today’s PPP multiplier (2). And the reason for this coincidence is, of course, that YOU mistakenly use the real (that is, inflation-adjusted) growth rate to forecast the PPP-adjusted GDP. Apples and oranges.

  20. Misha says:

    Of possible interest, this just cropped up, care of Rick Rozoff’s email list of articles, centering around geopolitically related NATO issues:

    No surprise that Saakashvili is attending that funeral. The deceased in question Otto von Habsburg was noticeably negative about Russia, as well as Serbia.

    His geopolitical line was clear years ago, on a PBS aired Firing Line show, hosted by Bill Buckley.

    During the Cold War, Buckley’s National Review was noticeably selective in what it chose to highlight from Solzhenitsyn. His anti-Communist views were highlghted over others like the one against the anti-Russian Captive Nations Committee.

    In her book “Fools’ Crusade,” Diana Johnstone noted von Habsburg’s activist anti-Serb role in the 1990s.

    There were/are anti-Communist/anti-Russian/anti-Serb advocates in contrast to anti-Communist, but not anti-Russian/anti-Serb observers.

    On a related note:

    Certain kinds of ethnic political upbringings play a role in the biases out there. At the same time, ethnicity alone doesn’t automatically determine how a given issue is viewed.

    Regarding Georgians, this poll is in line with my experience, which differs from what Saakashvili has suggested:

    Likewise, many Ukrainians don’t buy into the gist of what Viktor Yushchenko’s wife wrote, when she headed the anti-Russian Captive Nations Committee:

  21. Giuseppe Flavio says:

    Well, I’ve been quoting Kudrin and UniCredit. As far as I can tell they are using the same formulation to calculate the figures. You have also stated that China took about $48 billion in the first five months of this year. As fas as you can tell, are the 48 billion of Chinese FDI based of the same formulation used by Kudrin and Unicredit? Also, don’t you think it would “be interesting to see how much of that $48 billion is actually Chinese money, and not really FDI at all”?
    By “blow out of proportion” I mean that you blow out of proportion the relevance of economic indicator, not the economic indicator itself. The CDS example was enough to clear any doubt.
    Such a question is speculative and cannot be “proved” either way. So, I wonder what you mean by “Nice answer” in reply to the speculative theory mentioned by peter that cannot be “proved” either way.
    Finally, I haven’t read your articles, because I’m not interested to know if you predict a sudden collapse, a coloured revolution scenario or the latest trope of Breznev-style stagnation for Russia. These are just minor variations on the usual propaganda device.

    Re. energy windfalls, that’s another of the usual anti-Putin and anti-Russian story that keeps re-appearing. It can be summarised with “Putin’s Russia improved the economy because of high energy prices, without these they’d be piss poor”. As if energy prices are like solar spots or earthquakes, i.e. natural phenomena beyond the human control. Energy prices are man made, and resource nationalists like Putin and Chavez have contributed to the rising energy prices with their policies.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      …energy prices were like solar spots or earthquakes…

    • peter says:

      … the speculative theory mentioned by peter…

      According to the authors, the elasticity figure in question is not a mere speculation, it’s an estimate obtained from “the relevant econometric and numerical models surveyed in Guriev and Tsyvinski.”

      … resource nationalists like Putin and Chavez have contributed to the rising energy prices with their policies.

      It’s not clear from the wording whether this is a statement of established fact or rather a “speculative theory” of your own making. Please clarify.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        numerical models surveyed… I agree, it’s not a mere speculation it’s a survey of theories. Evidently, none of these theories has been proved, otherwise there wouldn’t be the need to do a survey. So, we have more than one speculative theory, and I still wonder what “Nice answer” meant.
        Please clarify. It’s just my opinion based on two simple assumptions:
        1) resource nationalism has slowed the development of the oil/gas industry and as a consequence the supply of oil and gas;
        2) the lower is the supply of a good, the higher is its price.
        I don’t qualify the simple syllogism that follows from 1 and 2 as a speculative theory.

        • peter says:

          So, we have more than one speculative theory…

          No, they apparently use more than one method to estimate the same thing — which, of course, is hardly unusual. Aren’t you a scientist or something? I wonder what your field of research is.

          the lower is the supply of a good, the higher is its price.

          Thanks, Captain Obvious, could you please also enlighten us as to where OPEC fits in your brilliant syllogism?

          • yalensis says:

            Here is another Ilya Muromets joke, this time translated into English, so everyone can enjoy:

            Ilya Muromets, the brave knight, was riding along when he came to a fork in the road and a carved stone reading: “If you go to the right, you’ll lose your horse. If you go to the left, you’ll turn into a cocksucker.”

            “Fuck that shit, Ilya Muromets ain’t never sucked no man’s cock,” scoffed the knight, and took the left road.

            Soon Ilya met Zmej Gorynych, three-headed Firebreathing Dragon of the Mountains — one, two, the vorpal blade went snicker-snack, and off came the heads. Ilya continued on, till he came to the lair of the wicked warlock Koshchei the Immortal. He kicks the shit out of Koshchei, rides on, meets the witch Baba Yaga and kicks the shit out of her…

            The Nightingale Bandit, watching from above, observes “Damn, this guy is a real tool!”

            “Well, after all, sweetie,” chirruped the Frog Tsarevna, who happened to be sitting on the Robber’s shoulder, “you remember what the sign said! It was all foretold…”

            P.S. this Ilya kind of reminders me of someone, I wonder who….

          • Giuseppe Flavio says:

            apparently use more than one method Models are not methods.
            Thanks, Captain Obvious… When you ask a dumb question, you get an obvious answer, if you’re lucky.
            could you please also enlighten us… No luck this time.

            • peter says:

              Models are not methods.

              The sentences “We use the model by Flavio et al.” and “We use the method based on the model by Flavio et al.” mean the same thing. I again wonder what your field of research is.

              • Giuseppe Flavio says:

                No. Obviously the second sentence implies that there is only one known method based on the mentioned model. But that’s not the point. The point is…
                You have again run out of luck.

                • marknesop says:

                  Hey, Giuseppe – I like your cool new name, Captain Obvious. Does it come with tights and supernatural powers, like being able to jump over the deficit in a single bound? Evidently the questions regarding your field of research are meant to imply that you don’t need to be very smart to do it, so if I were in your shoes I would say you are studying the rate of loss of workplace teaspoons. Hey, Somebody’s got to do it. it might as well be Captain Obvious and his sidekick, No Doubt.

                  P.S. I tried a couple of times to insert an image of Gwen Stefani of No Doubt (so hot) at this point, captioned “Gwen Stefani, of “So Obvious”, which would have been really funny and clever if I wasn’t such a technological dickhead, and it didn’t work. So just imagine it.

                • yalensis says:

                  Greetings, Captain Obvious, greatest Italian superhero ever! A little advice: Why even bother trying to debate Captain Annoying? This guy, “peter”, likes to argue just to hear the sound of his own (virtual) voice. He is like a badly written character from a Chekhov play, if Chekhov was capable of writing something bad. Occasionally this “peter” character is useful at fact-checking; he is like a walking Encycopedia and is very quick to correct someone if they made a factual or typing error. He knows the internet like the back of his hand and knows all the links with useful info. But when you try to debate him on substance, he keeps changing the topic and squirming about like a slippery eel.
                  I have found in the past best way to respond to him is either (1) with you-tube videos of his hero Saakashvili chowing down on his tie; or (2) with silly vulgar jokes which attempt (okay, here I am the one being Captain Obvious) to draw a parallel with his own bad behavior.

                • peter says:

                  Obviously the second sentence implies that there is only one known method based on the mentioned model.

                  Okay Cap, make it “We use a method based on the model by Giuseppe et al.” — but I’d still love to know what your field of research is. I guess hard sciences can be ruled out, and clearly economics isn’t your forte either. So what is it? Why are you ashamed to tell?

  22. yalensis says:

    On “Democracy”: Is clear to everyone that Mark won debate, he answered every point made by Democratist, plus scored many points of his own.

    In the glory days of European colonialism, every regiment of soldiers was accompanied by a priest with a Bible. Using religion to cow the natives. Shortly thereafter, missionaries arrived, to continue the conversion of the natives to the new religion. Beneath all the talk about God, the actual purpose was to steal the natives Gold.
    Flash forward to modern world: Modern imperialists are accompanied by priests of their secular religion, what they call “Democracy”. Instead of Bible, they have writings of neo-cons like Michael McFaul and “Democratist”. They write with great pathos about bringing this wonderful new religion to deluded natives. The actual number of good, practical ideas democracy proponents have (for implementing regional elections, etc.) could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and does not require volumes of books or massive blogs, let alone fighting all these wars. Suspicious natives might even be interested in implementing some of these ideas, were they not aware that it requires handing over all their Gold and Oil to colonizers in exchange.
    Iraq is perfect example: “We privatize your oil. In exchange, you get lovely purple finger!”

    • marknesop says:

      That’s very kind, but I don’t think it was that kind of contest. We both got to air our viewpoints, and neither felt his had taken enough of a beating to withdraw it, that’s all. Personally, I found the exchange markedly less hostile than last time. I’m comfortable with the FDI argument, although Democratist proposed a lot of points that have yet to be answered. I’d also like to take a poke at that, “Russia’s got nothing but oil” argument, but I’m in the airport right now waiting for them to call my flight, and it’s not a good time to get deep into something.

  23. yalensis says:

    On women’s soccer finals:
    Well fought on both sides, but big congrats to Japanese team! This must be a huge rush for them, given all the horrible calamities their country has gone through in the past few months.
    Yay Japan!

  24. cartman says:

    There are a lot of articles about Stolypin lately, I just wanted to share this one from Open Democracy from a few months ago. Note that it does not call this the legacy of a “brutal monster”

    “In this part of the lesson the teacher asks the class to remember Pyotr Stolypin and his reforms. “Give them 20 years of freedom and the peasants will become the bosses,” she quotes the Tsarist-era Prime Minister. Stolypin didn’t get those 20 years. But there was a result even so – the kulaks, so despised by the Soviet regime, became their own masters. There is mention of the Baltic States in the class, as pupils already know from previous lessons that Stolypin’s experiment began there. It was the Baltic States that had the largest number of farmers when the Revolution broke out, and it was these farmers who subsequently put up such stubborn resistance to the Soviet regime – they had a great deal to lose. Reforms in the rest of Russia began later, but even those few years were sufficient for a class of capitalist farmers to appear – hard-working people with initiative.

    But the majority of the peasants in the 1920s were the peasants of average means, the so-called middle peasants. I remember that our textbooks quoted Lenin on the subject of the need to bring this large category of the population over to the side of the Bolsheviks. They were already strong, sufficiently well-off peasants who could feed their own families, which were often large, and if the development of rural areas in Russia had continued along Stolypin’s path, they could have been expected to become well-off farmers.”

    Why would this source (OD) use this as a counterexample to communist nostalgia, and now we suddenly hear a lot counter-counterexamples (supportive of communist revolutionaries, no less)?

    I’m convinced that these latest articles are just reflexively anti-Putin and not thought out. In fact, this is not the first time Shawn Walker has taken a whole story about Russia from some other source and rewritten it. He is becoming the new Luke Harding.

    • yalensis says:

      Thanks for links on Stolypin, I did not know much about this interesting historical character, but your comment inspired me to look him up on the internet. For example, here is his page in the English Wikipedia.
      Stolypin was apparently inspired by the family-farm system that he saw in the Baltic states (and probably also in Germany and France) and wanted to create a similar class of wealthy family-owned farms in Russia. I am sure that would have been beneficial to the growing Russian economy, but maybe was not in the cards at the time.
      Admittedly this is not exactly deep historical research, but the wiki-author did cast some doubt on whether Stolypin’s ambitious agricultural program could have worked in Russia:

      There remains doubt whether, even without the interruption of Stolypin’s murder and the First World War, his agricultural policy would have succeeded. The deep conservatism from the mass of peasants made them slow to respond. In 1914 the strip system was still widespread, with only around 10% of the land having been consolidated into farms.[11] Most peasants were unwilling to leave the security of the commune for the uncertainty of individual farming. Furthermore by 1913 the government’s own Ministry of Agriculture had itself begun to lose confidence in the policy.[12]

      But the most interesting part of the biography is the way Stolypin died (= assassination). This reads like a real murder mystery. Did Tsar Nikolai order his assassination? For one thing, the assassin was a Jew (Mordechai Gerkshkovich), and a radical terrorist, to boot. What a convenient villain! But wait… the plot thickens… turns out that Gerkshkovich (aka Dmitry Bogrov) was an agent of the Okhrana (=tsarist secret police).
      The greatest bit is the scene of Stolypin being shot in the theater, while attending an opera, RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE TSAR:
      Stolypin was reported to have coolly risen from his chair, removed his gloves and unbuttoned his jacket, exposing a blood-soaked waistcoat. He sank into his chair and shouted ‘I am happy to die for the Tsar’ before motioning to the Tsar in his imperial box to withdraw to safety. Tsar Nicholas remained in his position and in one last theatrical gesture Stolypin blessed him with a sign of the cross. The next morning the distressed Tsar knelt at Stolypin’s hospital bedside and repeated the words ‘Forgive me’. Stolypin died four days after being shot. Bogrov was hanged 10 days after the assassination; the judicial investigation was halted by order of Tsar Nicholas II. This gave rise to suggestions that the assassination was planned not by leftists, but by conservative monarchists who were afraid of Stolypin’s reforms and his influence on the Tsar, though this has never been proven.
      What a great conspiracy theory!
      And, to add to the perfection, there is even the dramatic scene in which Stolypin’s death was foreseen by Rasputin:
      Stolypin’s death was allegedly prophesied by Grigori Rasputin, who is reported to have shouted, “Death is after him! Death is driving behind him!” as he ran after the Imperial couple in the crowd outside the opera house.
      Okay, does this mean that Rasputin was not invited to the opera? But he knew something was going down… maybe while lurking around the palace, he overheard Tsar Nikolai ordering Stolypin’s murder? Or maybe Rasputin really did have scary prophetic powers…
      Personally, I am dubious about this. If Rasputin truly was a prophet and could see into the future, then he would have foreseen his OWN assassination, and not shown up for that fatal dinner where his enemies attempted to shoot, stab, poison, and drown him….

      • Misha says:

        From that Wiki link:

        “On September 14 [O.S. September 1] 1911, while he was attending a performance of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Kiev Opera House in the presence of the Tsar and his two eldest daughters, the Grand Duchesses Olga and Tatiana, Stolypin was shot twice, once in the arm and once in the chest, by Dmitri Bogrov (born Mordekhai Gershkovich), who was both a leftist radical and an agent of the Okhrana. Stolypin was reported to have coolly risen from his chair, removed his gloves and unbuttoned his jacket, exposing a blood-soaked waistcoat. He sank into his chair and shouted ‘I am happy to die for the Tsar’ before motioning to the Tsar in his imperial box to withdraw to safety. Tsar Nicholas remained in his position and in one last theatrical gesture Stolypin blessed him with a sign of the cross. The next morning the distressed Tsar knelt at Stolypin’s hospital bedside and repeated the words ‘Forgive me’. Stolypin died four days after being shot. Bogrov was hanged 10 days after the assassination; the judicial investigation was halted by order of Tsar Nicholas II. This gave rise to suggestions that the assassination was planned not by leftists, but by conservative monarchists who were afraid of Stolypin’s reforms and his influence on the Tsar, though this has never been proven. Stolypin was buried in the Pechersk Monastery (Lavra) in Kiev (nowadays capital of Ukraine).”


        Yes, some on the right had a motive to kill Stolypin as did some on the left. Vis-a-vis his assassin, there’s also the issue of the double agent mindset clinging between different stances. Different factors can come into play. Some Ukrainian nationalists suggest a left of center murderer of Petliura with ties to the Soviet government. Even if true, does this exclude the claimed motive that Petliura’s murderer had relatives who were victimized by Petliura’s forces? As for the stated government halt to an investigation of Stolypin’s murder, perhaps this had to do with not wanting to address working with a left of center assasin of Stolypin, while being lax. At issue is an era of not so democratic, but gorowing democratic governance not wanting to deal with embarassing moments.

        Regarding who is responsible for what:

        On complex matters of political assassination that involve so-so relationships with diverse political forces at odds with each other:

        English Wiki like some other sources can be suspect. Examples include the bios on Gogol and Suvorov. The latter doesn’t include Philip Lomgworth as a source, with the former excluding David Magarshack and Henri Troyat, while propping Edyta Bojanowska.

  25. Not so new with SW.

    On another matter about “democracy” and “freedom”, InoSMI is considerably more diverse than RFE/RL, with many Russians reading different views and replying to them.

    For all the criticisms of oD at this blog (including from yours truly), note that RIAN’s Andrei Zolotov uncritically referred to oD as a respected London based internet magazine, on the RIAN show he has hosted.

    Like I said, some Western based influences are evident in Russia.


    McFaul is more of a neolib than neocon – albeit a fine line between the two. On former Communist bloc issues, the neocons and neolibs are often close.

  26. Misha says:

    The Revolution Business

    At last notice, Srdja Popovic has a UAlberta affiliation, where he supported the heavy-handed move which successfully banned Srdja Trifkovic’s attempt to legally enter Canada.

    Soros funded hacks carry on in a censoring way, that’s in the kind of manner associated with a good portion of the Communist era.

    The Russian government and patriotically inclined Russian oligarchs could consider backing folks who aren’t relatively tame on the existing flaws against their country.

    Just saying that RT is a propagandistic counter to English language mass media doesn’t indicate how the former can be improved upon.

  27. Giuseppe Flavio AKA Captain Obvious says:

    Damn, my cover was blown away.
    Yalensis, don’t underestimate peter. He has blown my cover with his unrivalled logic and exceptional investigative capabilities. In fact, I suspect that his attitude at asking dumb questions and inability to understand the difference between models and methods is just a way to disguise himself as a dumb guy. He disguises himself so well that most people believe he is really that dumb.
    The article on teaspoons was hilarious, thanks. It looks like the authors were not so dead serious writing it.
    Okay Cap…
    Not yet, the modified sentence implies that there is more than one known method based on the mentioned model. Besides, you are confusing Giuseppe with Flavio. Not every Giuseppe is Flavio neither every Flavio is Giuseppe.
    Why are you ashamed to tell?
    I’ve to admit I’m really ashamed to tell. If I reveal what my field of research is, I know what my colleagues will say “what a shame, one of our lot wastes his time trolling a dull guy”. Sorry for the “dull guy”, but first it’s not me saying so. Second, your disguise works too well, so you share part of the responsibility for such an unpleasent outcome.

    Now, back to FDI, today RIA Novosti reports that Foreign direct investment in Russia up 39 pct in H1 says Putin.

    • peter says:

      … the modified sentence implies that there is more than one known method based on the mentioned model.

      No, it only implies that there are other methods, it says nothing about whether or not there are other methods based on the same model. If, for example, I say “Giuseppe Flavio is a nutcase who thinks that Putin sabotages Russia’s oil industry in order to keep supply low and price high,” it doesn’t imply that there is more than one known nutcase who thinks that.

      • marknesop says:

        That’s an exciting theory – although I assume it was used only for purposes of example – but in fact Putin does not have to take any sort of active hand in keeping prices high. The west fulfills that role nicely, attacking oil-rich countries in succession and causing them to cease contributing to the global supply. This makes oil companies and Arabs who are safe from attack (like Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the UAE) very happy. Doubtless it makes Putin very happy, too, but in that particular manipulation he would be blameless.

        • peter says:

          I assume it was used only for purposes of example

          Sadly, no, here’s the actual quote: “resource nationalism has slowed the development of the oil/gas industry and as a consequence the supply of oil and gas.” No smiley at the end.

        • Giuseppe Flavio says:

          Hi Mark,
          it wasn’t an example. I wrote (as peter faithfully reports) resource nationalism has slowed the development of the oil/gas industry and as a consequence the supply of oil and gas.. But peter changed “slowed” to “sabotages” in his example, just like he changed “models” to “methods” (this shows he knows the difference), i.e. he changes some word with an apparently equivalent one in order to drive the discussion to his liking.
          Resource nationalism has worked as a kind of price support for oil and gas, and I have to add a smart kind of price support, because instead of disposing of the surplus, it remains in Russia’s subsoil.
          Note: I’m quite familiar with price support in agriculture, because it was used extensively to support the price of Sicilian oranges in the ’80 when my father had his small farm. The Italian term is “ammasso”, that can be literally translated to: mass, accumulation, stack, hoard, dump, cluster. None of which seems linked to the concept of price control. Hence I needed some time to find the English term.

      • Giuseppe Flavio says:

        You are right this time. Now, can you tell if there is a difference between these two sentences:
        1) We use different methods;
        2) We use different models.

    • yalensis says:

      Giuseppe: Your true identity as “Captain Obvious” remained a secret until that fateful moment when the super-villain “peter” (aka “Irritating Troll”) disarmed you and pulled down that little mask that you had covering your eyes. Everyone who reads comic books knows that you can easily conceal your identity with the assistance of a little eye-mask, or, like I do, even just wearing a pair of glasses!

  28. Evgeny says:

    Mark, a really interesting news about Russia:

    Just few years ago it looked like MIT (Московский Институт Теплотехники) had taken a definite lead, while Makeyev’s KB (Конструкторское Бюро им. Макеева) was perceived to be in sharp decline. Now, it looks like the MIT and Makeyev’s KB are deemed to be real competitors of roughly equal weight, without evident preferences given to any of them.

    • marknesop says:

      This is something Russia must do, because if it does not do something serious about its defense capability it will be perceived as weak, and Ballistic Missiles are the go-to deterrent against attack. But don’t believe all that twaddle about them being “more able to overcome missile defense”. What it is more likely to do is revitalize western resolve that missile defense is necessary, which will make defense contractors very happy. Russophobes will be happy, because they will be able to blather on about “new neo-Soviet aggression” (which is the default alternative to laughing at Russia because it allowed its defenses to run down in accordance with relaxing its ambitions to being a regional power). But in the end, engineering a new weapons system is always going to be much more expensive than coming up with a trick that will weaken its effectiveness.

      However, there’s little else Russia could do, because having a powerful nuclear deterrent seems to be the best way these days to show you are serious about your security. Personally, I hate the things, as most of the actual military in every field of service despises indiscriminate killers that slay the innocent along with the guilty; ICBM’s are and will always be a weapon of the politicians and civilian war-porn strategists. If it were up to me, I would have put the money into submarines, which are (in my opinion) the best investment in scaring the shit out of your enemy. The ocean is a noisy place, and a quiet submarine with a good driver can nearly always carry the element of surprise. Being able to get close means you don’t need a missile that can fly 11,000 km, and adds the complication of vastly reducing warning time. A single submarine can tie up an entire small task group that is trying to pin it down and kill it. That’s all stuff you can read in the average Tom Clancy novel, but that doesn’t make it fiction. It wasn’t that long ago that a Victor-class submarine nobody knew was there accidentally lost depth control and came up directly under the carrier KITTY HAWK, hitting her bottom and leaving part of a propeller embedded in her hull; she had to go back in to Yokosuka for repair.

      But civilians are afraid of ICBM’s – they’re afraid of the sneaky Communist killer-robots who want to incinerate decent people in their beds just because they are free. In that sense, ICBM’s make sense, because voters can bring pressure to bear that sometimes keeps politicians from doing something crazy. Civilians are not afraid of submarines, because civilians half-believe they’re still like the ones in “Das Boot”, that have to come up to snorkel every day and are easy meat for brilliant sonar operators and stout lads with depth charges. But don’t count on new ICBM’s being particularly “defense resistant”, because engineering a countermeasure is always easier and cheaper than the weapon it is designed to counter.

      • Evgeny says:

        Mark, the primary goal of ICBMs is not to destroy peaceful cities — but the military sites and political centers. Of course, there’s the option of a “retaliatory” attack of peaceful cities in case most of Russia’s military forces is destroyed by a sneaky attack — but it’s less likely to happen.

        I also don’t like that nukes can kill innocents. May be we do not need wars at all, once we can not simply undo the bomb.

        The situation is rather simple, in fact.
        0) The Reagan’s Star Wars plans. Russian’s are saying: What?! Americans are going to build an ABM system? Then we need to have MIRVed rockets that would make an ABM ineffective!
        1) The dissolution of the Soviet Union. Americans are saying: why the hell do we need all those MIRVed rockets? We are all that peaceful folks. Let’s forbid MIRVed rockets.
        2) The start of the first term of George W. Bush. The Americans are saying: woohoo! There are no MIRVed rockets around! Why won’t we renew our ABM plans?!
        3) The start of the first term of Dmitry Medvedev. The Russians are saying? What?! Americans are going to build an ABM shield?! Then we need to build a new MIRVed rocket to replace the “Voyevoda” aka “Satan”…

        It’s a sort of a vicious circle, IMHO. We could change the situation radically if we had a World Government. You guys are doing a lot in that respect — as far as I understand, Canadian branch of the World Federalist Organization is among the strongest worldwide.

        • yalensis says:

          World Government with headquarters in Canada? Sounds like great idea. I vote for Dudley Do-Right as World President!

        • marknesop says:

          Unfortunately, the military sites and political centers are located in peaceful cities. It’d be pretty hard to destroy the White House and the Pentagon without wrecking half of Washington DC, wouldn’t it? The west has been confident for many years that it could wipe out most of Russia’s ICBM force in their silos in a preemptive first strike, and I imagine it’s gamed regularly for the purpose of computer modeling – but they’ve always worried, in the back of their minds, about that handful of missiles that survive, for those capricious reasons things sometimes happen in war. Perhaps a physical feature such as surrounding rock that over-hardens one silo, or one that is targeted but is missed, plus one or two whose locations are not precisely known.

          Those are the ones the missile defense systems are supposed to take out, and are the reason for such systems’ siting out of range of “rogue” missiles being fired from Iran or so that an interception would take place right over the country they are supposedly designed to protect.

          That’s the wild card the submarine introduces. Very often it’s not known exactly where it is, even though departures and patrol routes are carefully studied. The submarine force has always been the strongest leg of the nuclear triad because of the element of uncertainty.

          I can’t think of anyone who would make a good world government, because every country contains the wealthy, privileged and aggressive element that views politics and power as opportunity rather than responsibility. Canada would be no better at it than anyone else – sooner or later a leader would take power who could subvert the remainder to his or her will and begin to maneuver for advantage, based on prejudice. It might work for a while if the world government figures were plucked from other countries and made to live and work in the country where the government is located, but even then you would get divided loyalties. Every group of humans who is compassionate, moral and non-materialistic contains the bad seed that loves power for its own sake or cannot resist social engineering out of ego rather than a motivation toward advancement for all. And you continue to need representational municipal government for local affairs that would be beneath the notice of a world government; otherwise it would have to be millions strong, the size of a country by itself.

          • Evgeny says:

            Mark, indeed, you are correct. Nukes will murder civilians. But they are never deemed as a means of an offense — but the last means of defense. So it’s a great stimulus for civilians to elect less aggressive governments.

            That’s simple. We must not admit a new world war — which is already taking place. Well. At least, Russia and Canada are playing their roles fairly so far — without getting involved.

            There are not only submarines, but also mobile on-land launchers. Previously we used to have mobile railroad launchers, but they were (unilaterally) destroyed per one of the previous START treaties.

            We could have a democratically elected World Government, which would only get involved with the issues of war and peace, and global development. While other issues could be delegated to the national governments — just the way they are treated now.

          • yalensis says:

            Quoting @mark on why world government would not work:
            “Canada would be no better at it than anyone else – sooner or later a leader would take power who could subvert the remainder to his or her will and begin to maneuver for advantage”
            For thsi very reason, our scheme can only work if world leader is a person of irreproachable morals, incorruptible, and true of heart. Hence: Dudley Do-Right!
            (Okay, Dudley is admittedly an idiot, so let’s say the knight Sir Parsifal instead. He was pure and true of heart, right? — okay, he was also an idiot….never mind…)

            • marknesop says:

              Even the pure of heart are susceptible to subversion by the unscrupulous who manage to convince them that pursuit of their objectives will achieve the leader’s goals. It’s simply a matter of discovering what the leader wants, and then convincing him/her implementation of your plans is helping him/her get it. Not one person in 10 million is impervious to such an approach, or thinks to question how exactly your plans are achieving his/her aims.

              • yalensis says:

                That’s true. Sir Parsifal (=Perceval) was pure of heart, thus of all the Knights of the Round Table, he was the only one considered worthy to retrieve the Grail. Unfortunately, even he became corrupted by an evil sorcerer playing upon his naive delusions.
                Same thing happened to Dudley Do-Right: Snidely Whiplash was able to trick good-hearted Dudley into helping him rob a bank, under the pretext they were saving Nell.
                From this it follows that a World Government is not possible.

  29. yalensis says:

    On Libya:
    Over the weekend every media in the world (which is almost uniformly pro-rebel) exploded with excited claims that rebels had taken oil city of Brega. Now they are backing off that claim. What seems to have happened is that NATO ordered rebels to take Brega before start of Ramadan. Rebels made sincere attempt to comply, but took horrible beating from pro-government forces. Even Al-Jazeera, which has been virulently pro-rebel, suddenly changed their tune, and even removed their obnoxiously pro-rebel blog called “Libya: We win or we die” (which title inevitably led individual reader to cruel and ignoble thoughts about which scenario he would prefer…)
    Anyhow, earlier this morning I read some accounts in al-Jazeera (now I can’t find that link any more) where rebels were complaining hysterically that pro-Gaddafi soldiers had tricked them outside of Brega: pretending to be their friends (driving pickup trucks with pro-rebel flag), getting close, and then blowing their heads off. Many rebels were killed. Survivors vowed cruel revenge: “We know how to deal with these tricksters… blah blah blah…” Deception on the battlefield, OMG!
    Here is a recent wire from Reuters , it starts with the usual political bullshit how Sarkozi (=Ruler of the World aka “le petit napoleon”) has graciously decided to allow Gaddafy to remain in his native country of Libya. Then, a couple of paragraphs later, we get this nugget about what is actually happening on the actual battlefield where everything is truly going to be decided in this particular war:

    On the battlefield, rebels suffered heavy casualties in fighting for the eastern oil hub of Brega, a town they must capture if they are to advance toward the capital, Tripoli.
    Eighteen rebel fighters were killed and up to 150 wounded in the latest clashes with forces loyal to Gaddafi for control of Brega, a doctor at a rebel-controlled hospital said.
    “Yesterday, it was a disaster,” Dr Sarahat Atta-Alah told Reuters at Ajdabiya hospital in eastern Libya Wednesday

    The article then resorts to the usual grammar of the international media, which, when dealing with Libya, makes heavy use of the “conditional case”, i.e., “if the rebels were to take Brega, then they would be really successful…” or “if the rebels were to get within 20 miles of Tripoli, then they would really have something to write home about…”
    More grammar examples:
    Conditional case: Rebels said Tuesday they had encircled the town, which if captured would mark a major boost for their campaign to oust Gaddafi.
    Active voice: A rebel soldier named Izzel-Deen said: “Yesterday we saw Brega. We were very close but we turned round when they started shelling us.”

    • marknesop says:

      The cynic in me wonders how long it will be before NATO gets impatient and simply takes Brega for them, floating the excuse that there were large concentrations of pro-Gadaffi military vehicles encircling and machine-gunning civilians in the town – another example of destroying the village to save it.

      I can’t understand what the problem is. The rebels have excellent leadership – NATO says so. The rebels do not lack for courage or discipline – the press says so. They don’t need more guns – France airdrops them more guns than they have soldiers. They’re not short of ammunition – they have so much they can afford to shoot it into the air in celebration on the slightest pretext. There are plenty of them, because they’re the majority. They must be, because imposing the will of the minority on the majority is not democracy, but tyranny.

      So….what’s the holdup?

      • hoct says:

        The main holdup is that very few people are motivated to go and fight far away from their home towns. If Gaddafi loyalists somehow moved on Bengazi thousands of locals would oppose them weapon-in-hand, but only a very small portion of them are motivated to attempt a march on Tripoli and the like.

        This is a good thing since it hampers attempts to escalate the extent of fighting and human loss.

        • marknesop says:

          Gaddafi loyalists did move on Misrata, and NATO had to intervene to prevent them taking it easily. I honestly don’t think the “rebellion” is a rebellion at all, in the sense that there is a broad desire to remove Gaddafi in favour of a transitional government of hotheads with no plan beyond taking the next town. Rebels are most definitely not the majority, or they’d have won by now. The rebellion is simply a wedge whittled by western politicians in an attempt to install a new government in Libya and keep the “Arab Spring” (has nobody noticed it has moved into summer with little measurable progress?) going. As long as the west puts all its eggs in one petroleum-dominated basket, this will continue to happen in oil-producing countries. The west wants control – not necessarily ownership or even direct management, but control. All that twaddle about the plight of poor oppressed Libyans is just the usual fluff, and more people have been killed since the NATO intervention than before it. If NATO had not pushed in, it would have been over long before now.

          • hoct says:

            We can probably agree that a vast majority of Libyans whether they are pro-Gaddafi or anti-Gaddafi do not seem to be very interested in shooting at other Libyans over something as trivial as politics. So the foreign intervention with its imposition of a feel good black-or-white narrative intervention is all the more tragic.

            The rebels having gotten a stamp of unconditional approval have little incentive to negotiate with the other side that has been likened to the anti-Christ. This is good thing for a few of the leading and the most zealous rebel types (and Western liberal interventionists in search of moral crusades in other people’s wars), but bad for the average Libyan (who has a family to think about and is not running around with an AK-47) who would probably be fine with a compromise peace and return to security.

            It is a similar situation to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina where the side that was militarily the weakest had the most ambitious (and the most unjust) war aims and was the least inclined to compromise and negotiate, because it had every reason to expect outsiders would come to its aid, defeat its enemies and win its war for it.

            • Misha says:

              Hence the overly trumped up casualty claims which have come from them.

              • Misha says:

                On some questionable Bosnian Muslim nationalist claims not getting challenged:


                Misha Gavrilovic is knowledgeable of Serb views. Muhamed Sacirbey is American TV news media savvy.

                Several comments by the latter didn’t get replies or could’ve included additional points.

                – Bosnian Muslim nationalist culpability in keeping Srebrenica a tense war zone in the lead up to the mass killing of Muslims.

                – Earlier Bosnian Muslim nationalist crimes against Serbs in the Srebrenica area.

                – The panel didn’t get into the matter of determining the number of people killed in Srebrenica by summary execution, collateral damage, as well as those who were armed combatants. Some other Bosnian Civil War casualties have since been acknowledged as bloated. Over the course of time, the Bosnian Muslim nationalist side has been prone to trumping up figures as a way of getting greater worldwide sympathy. At present, there’re claims that there’s a good basis to disbelieve the figure that near 7,000 or more Muslim males were summarily executed at Srebrenica. This view doesn’t deny that summary executions on a noticeable scale took place and that such action falls under a war crime status.

                – Muhamed Sacirbey’s comments on the Bosnian Civil War alliances omitted mention of the the Muslims who chose to fight against Izetbegovic’s forces, while siding with the Serbs and/or Croats.

                – The state of West Virginia is a product of the American Civil War. At the outbreak of that conflict, the majority of Virginians chose to side with the upstart Confederacy, whereas the rest of that state preferred to exist within the Union. Instead of choosing to remain part of what was still a very multiethnic Yugoslavia (even with the secessions of Croatia and Slovenia), the Bosnian Muslim nationalists chose separatism as an entity where they would be in a dominant position as the plurality. The Bosnian Muslim nationalist leader at the time authored (in 1970) an Islamic Declaration, with passages contradicting the idea of multiethnic tolerance.

                – While it’s true that Bosnian Croats en masse didn’t seek a continued existence in Yugoslavia, it’s also true that aren’t/weren’t keen in living in a Bosnian Muslim dominated state.

              • hoct says:

                Inflated casualty claims were probably the least of it. In certain cases the Sarajevo government actively made victims of its people to bolster its position.

                Whether one or both of the infamous Sarajevo market bombardments were a false flag attack is controversial, what is undisputable however is the existence of an internal, Bosnian Muslim blockade of Sarajevo. Sarajevans were prevented from attempting to leave the city by their authorities throughout the existence of the blockade. The authorities also obstructed their access to drinking water, not permitting a water treatment plant that was shipped in by the internationals to begin operating. Since the suffering of Sarajevans made foreign military intervention more likely the government sought to sustain this suffering.

                Campaigning for a foreign intervention was the corner stone of the strategy of the Sarajevo government that humanitarian, but also military considerations were made subordinate to — leading to a constant state of tension between the political leadership (Izetbegović) and the military leadership (Halilović) of the Bosnian Muslims. In the case of Srebrenica it is to this day unclear how a town that boasted a presence of ARBiH 8,0000 strong could fall to less than 2,000 VRS men — at a time when the Bosnian Serb Army was suffering from diminished morale and acute fuel shortages and was everywhere else in Bosnia and Herzegovina firmly on the defensive.

                • Misha says:

                  Exaggerating casualty claims, inclusive of presenting questionable (put mildly) opinions as fact (as remains true with Srebrenica) has been a key propaganda tool of the Bosnian Muslim nationalist side.

                  Sarajevo also had armed Muslim nationalists who weren’t so peaceable towards non-Muslims in that city. Note the justification some others give for making a civilian area a target zone in armed conflict situations.

                  On a point you made about Srebrenica, Muslim prisoners elsewhere acknowledge decent treatment when under Serb captivity. As for Srebrenica, one source tells of a very small number of Serbs facing a tremendously greater number of Muslim prisoners, who became increasingly violent. One can make reference to periodic comments from American law enforcement on the difficulty in maintaining relative peace in prison systems across the US. Factor a wartime situation with limited personnel and other resources.


            • yalensis says:

              @hoct: you made lots of good points.
              Here is an opinion piece I saw yesterday that debunks a lot of the propaganda used in this Libya war.
              Most noticeably, in relation to your point about rebel-held towns, author describes how rebels used stories about African (=black) mercenaries raping Arabic (=white) women to panic the population (of eastern areas, now rebel-held) to flee. In other sources, I have read that Benghazi, the rebel capital, used to be a huge flourishing oil-port city of almost a million people, and is now a ghost town with just a few thousands of civilians left. As mentioned in this piece, rebels use violence and trickery to drive most of the civilian population out of areas they control. Same thing happened in Misurata, and same thing also in Western Mountains area. Many Berber villages which rose up against Gaddafy in February/March are now ghost towns, and it is not because Gaddafi forces took villages back – no, they are still under rebel control. Berber civilians were forced to flee to Tunisia because the rebels (whom Berbers initially supported) have looted and destroyed the infrastructure of every village they ever occupied.

              • marknesop says:

                Libyans will be sorrier than I can describe if this drive to topple Gaddafi is successful. It’ll be Egypt all over again, with some western puppet on the throne who has the threat of crushing western military force behind him to keep him in power for decades – or at least until he’s no longer needed.

            • marknesop says:

              I never really thought about it that way, but on doing so, you’re right. It certainly does stand to reason that the rebels will brush aside every overture from Gaddafi, since they have NATO whispering in their ear that theirs is the noble cause. I doubt any of them actually believe that, but I’m sure they’ll take it for what it’s worth. That said, you’re also correct that kit is the more tragic, because it is prolonging the war and getting more people killed. Some might say all Gaddafi needs do is step down, and the war will be over tomorrow, but why should he? It doesn’t reflect the will of the majority in Libya, which is all that should count.

              If I were Gaddafi, i would harden my narrative and broadcast that every one of the rebels will be hunted down and killed. So it’s probably good that he is in charge and not me, because I wouldn’t make much of a statesman. Continuing to make peaceful noises while keeping the pressure on is likely the best course of action in the circumstances. I’d still like the rebels to know, though, that once NATO can no longer sustain the pretense and has to find a reason to withdraw, it isn’t going to be all is forgiven.

              • hoct says:

                Rising up against any government is a commendable act. Gaddafi is a politician — therefore he deserves to be overthrown and worse. The shameful part is the rebels campaigning for imperial powers to kill their countrymen and subject their country to a bombing campaign. Actually their ‘rebellion’ has clearly taken a backseat to contemptible campaigning for increased foreign intervention.

                • marknesop says:

                  I don’t know; I’m still not sold on the idea of no government. Most people are too weak or too lazy to govern themselves responsibly, and having no government at all usually results in rule by the strongest or most ill-tempered. If you have laws, you have to have enforcement, otherwise some won’t obey. The idea of people living together in peace and harmony without any authority to act as arbiter is a wonderful one, but I can’t see it existing anywhere in a modern world outside John Lennon’s songs. It’s true governments should be regularly overthrown, because even benign democratic governments get too full of themselves at the notion they were chosen to lead, as if it were some kind of prize or reward rather than a demanding responsibility. But ideally the act of overthrowing the government should usher in dramatic improvement. I think I can promise that won’t happen in Libya under the conditions that presently prevail, and it might even be a great deal worse than Libyans can imagine. Anyone who thinks Libyans lack self-determination now should be given a preview from 5 years on of the bastard child resulting from an Islamic fundamentalist government with western advisers and a greatly augmented western presence, probably including a military one.

                • yalensis says:

                  @hoct: Like wars, some uprisings are just and others not. There are some components of Libyan uprising that may be considered just (or at least were initially, before NATO got involved). Berber tribesmen in Nafusa Mountains apparently had some legitimate beefs against Gaddafy government: they claim they were forbidden from using their own native languages, and were treated as second-class citizens, compared to Arabs. It is one thing for government to insist that children learn Arabic in school so that all citizens have a common language to communicate in; but it is wrong to punish people for speaking their own dialect in the marketplace, which is what they say happened. So these people had every right to demonstrate and demand redress from the central government; or even to take up arms if that was the only way to get their point across. But the moment they started demanding that NATO drop bombs on Libyan cities, then they lost any legitimacy and became traitors to their own country. Besides, as I mentioned above, they are not faring any better under rebel leadership, and most have had to flee their homes after the rebels took over their villages. So, they are probably sorry now that they ever supported the rebels. If I were Gaddafy, I would make overture to them and try to cut a deal, to win them back from rebels.
                  By the way, breaking news today: pro-Gaddafy forces took back one of these mountain towns, I forget name of town, but it is important hub near border with Chad. Migrants from Chad and Niger are supposed to report to this town to get their passports checked.

    • AK says:

      yalensis, given how you’re becoming quite the authority on Libya (something I’m not following very closely), what do you think about writing a post about it?

      I for one would be very interested in reading a summary and analysis of the conflict (including the non-mainstream account of Western media duplicity).

      Mark has first dibs, of course, though I’m more than willing to publish it on S/O if Mark wants to keep Kremlin Stooge focused on Russia.

      • yalensis says:

        @anatoly: I am by no means an authority on Libya war, I don’t read Arabic or Berber, so I do not have access to first sources. I have simply been following war, as closely as I can, mostly over internet, ever since March. Mark is tolerant guy and allows people on his blog to post comments off-topic, which I shamelessly take advantage of. However, in my own mind, there IS a Russian connection: The connection, and the psychological cause of my obsession, is my deep desire, as a Russian, to see NATO take a much-deserved beating!
        When Libya conflict first began in February, I knew nothing about the players. I hated Gaddafy like I hate all dictators, I am by nature anti-authoritarian (you could call me a “rebel without a clue”) and my very first instinct was “Yeah! Throw that tyrant out! Rah rah revolutionaries!”
        Then, very soon (and Mark and others helped educate me), it became clear that “rebels” were just ragtag combo of NATO mercenaries and Al Qaeda Jihadists. So I quickly switched sides, and the more I followed the conflict the more I surprised myself by actually becoming quite pro-Gaddafy. Say what you will about the old bastard, he has proved that he has True Grit. He is maybe the only remaining leader in the whole world (with head “bloody but unbowed”) who is willing to stand up to NATO. [Cite more verses from “Invictus”…]
        So every day I scrounge around looking for latest news on battles, etc. But, like I mentioned earlier, the entire world media is pro-ragtag, so I have to sift through a lot of propaganda to find some nugget of what is actually happening on the ground.
        Can you imagine how discouraging it is when you are looking for unbiased factual coverage and you see even Chinese and Russia media completely toeing party (=NATO) propaganda line. For example, here is nice lady on Xinhua news intoning in thick Chinese accent the usual drivel about Gaddafy’s forces “using civilians as human shields”. Of all the tropes the imperialists use in their propaganda, that one irritates me the most. Imperialists prance around la-la-la dropping bombs on other peoples’ cities, and then have the UNMITIGATED GAUL to claim that the people in those cities are being used as “human shields”. Grrrrr! (Sorry for rant….)

        • marknesop says:

          For my part, I was onboard as soon as you said “toeing the line” – I’ve lost count of the numbers of even respected columnists who write it “towing the line”, which a moment’s research would reveal as nonsense. Mistake with “Gaul”, though – the Gauls were a group of west-European Celts who vanished as a distinct group during the age of the Roman Empire, while “Gall” is the bitter interior chemical we usually associate with arrogance and entitlement.

          If you have the time, I think you should do it. You should let Anatoly publish it because you’ll get more exposure on Sublime Oblivion than you likely would here. I recommend you start with a summary of the “charges” against Gaddafy that dictate he must go, followed by as much verifiable information as you can assemble that discredits them, then follow that with a summary of continued western associations with countries that are worse. Then you could bring in a factual profile of Libyan progress under Gaddafy, with emphasis on the Man Made River project (I can’t overemphasize how much easy access to clean water means to the development of an arid African country). Then you could introduce possible motives, taking care to highlight them as possibilities and opinions only – that’d be a good place to bring in CENTCOM, and the eagerness to move it from Stuttgart. You could finish with examples of the manner in which the media focus has allowed the rebels to be viewed with legitimacy, although the notion you can take a small group of complainers and grace them with the trappings of national government would normally be laughed out of the room as soon as it was proposed. There’s no doubt the west smells an opportunity here, and it has nothing to do with sincere sympathy for the cause of al Qaeda, Misrata/Benghazi branch and probably is not just an effort to keep the “Arab Spring” momentum going. If it were, they’d be wiser to give up on Libya and move on to Syria, where efforts have become a bit half-hearted of late.

          • yalensis says:

            Thanks for comments, Mark! My apologies to the noble Gauls for defaming them (by confusing them with nasty gall bladders).
            Anyhow, sounds like a great outline for a blog!
            If I WERE TO write such a blog for Anatoly (note my use of the conditional tense), then in addition to the bullet points you mention, I could use my academic background (=all those courses I had to take in literary criticism) to de-construct pro-rebel propaganda. For example, as I mentioned before, omnipresent use of the conditional tense, as in: “If these plucky ragtags were to get their asses within 80 kilometers of Tripoli, then they would really have something to write home about to their NATO masters….”

            • marknesop says:

              It sounds like you have it all together, and I think it’d be interesting. Particularly since there aren’t a lot of opinions out there that are anything but pro-rebel. You don’t have to be pro-Gaddafi to think this is nonsense, and you should resist any attempts to label you as pro-Gaddafi if you do it.

    • Giuseppe Flavio says:

      Hi Yalensis,
      I’m following the Libyan war through an Italian blog, Tutto in 30 secondi. The title means “Everything in 30 seconds” because most of the posts are very short, and is maintained by Italian Islamist (that is to say people that study the Islamic world, not that believe in Islam. As of late, Italian media often use the term “Islamista” as a synonymous for Muslim extremism, which is wrong). It’s about the Islamic world in general, but mostly focus on the Arab world. Their posts on the Libyan war are infrequent, but very interesting. The last one is about the battle for Brega. Brega is not a town, rather “a complex of several smaller towns, industry installations and education establishments” as reported by Wikipedia, and the rebels have conquered “New Brega” or “Eastern Brega”, that is to say the main eastern town of the complex. While loyalists still holds “Old Brega” or “Western Brega” with its oil terminal. The author notices that neither the rebels nor the loyalists seem to understand the importance of Al Uqaylah (also known as El Agheila), a choke point between Ras Lanuf and Brega whose strategic relevance was well understood during WW II.
      Note: the blog is slightly pro-rebel.

      • yalensis says:

        Thanks for link, Giuseppe. Damn, but I wish I could read Italian! (If I were pro-rebel, I would compose this in conditional tense: “If I were able to read Italian, then I would have many more opportunities to follow this conflict…”)
        Anyhow, the bit about El Agheila is very pertinent. I remember reading over last weekend that “rebels claim” (another 2 words that begin many articles) that they had pushed pro-Gaddafy forces back to Ras Lanuf. Needless to say, this claim turned out to be premature.
        Maybe Libyan generals really do need to study WWII battles in that same area, and plan their strategy accordingly? Those battles must have been something to write home about, with brilliant WWII generals on both sides plotting major strategies and moving tens of thousands of men and tanks around the desert. I get impression that, unlike Saddam Hussein, who had a huge, well-equipped army before American invasion, Libyan army is quite “third-worldish”, i.e., small, ill-equipped, and somewhat amateurish. The only thing that saves them is the fact that rebels are even more amateurish. It’s like watching a fight between “Dumb” and “Dumber”.
        Some analysts mention how Gaddafy, in his complacency, really let his army go to seed in the last couple of decades. Now he is paying the price for that neglect.

      • cartman says:

        I have heard that there is a video of Libyan rebels cutting up bodies of pro-government forces and forcing prisoners to eat. I do not want to see it, but I would like to know if it was true.

        • yalensis says:

          @cartman: I haven’t heard of any “cannibal” video, but there was this report of rebel atrocities from Russian media. Don’t worry, there’s nothing gross in it:

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