Don’t you know that I was sittin’ back in Moscow
I was playin’ those rhythm and blues
And then I got a big offer
For more money than I could refuse
I had the chance to make it
Playin’ anything I wanted to play
But way back in my mind
You know I could hear the people say –
Keep playin’ that Rock and Roll…
Of course, that’s Edgar Winter’s White Trash, from back in the early 70’s when Mr. Putin was barely out of his teens – just in case anyone thought I was serious, and perhaps Mr. Putin had decided to branch out from “Blueberry Hill” and take his act on the road. And it’s actually “Texas” in the first line, not Moscow: both rock and roll icons Edgar and his brother Johnny Winter were from Beaumont, Texas. See, here’s Edgar Winter and White Trash live in 1973. No Putin. Actually, this is the Edgar Winter Group, which came after White Trash and did not include Jerry LaCroix (the dazzling Ronnie Montrose played lead guitar for the Edgar Winter Group), but you’ll have to take my word for it.
Anyway, the inspiration for this post actually had nothing to do with rock and roll, or any kind of music, but with Mr. Putin’s popularity. The tireless snake-oil peddlers at the Wall Street Journal would have you believe that Mr. Putin’s popularity with his people is on a continual downward slide and, according to their source (Mikhail Dmitriev at the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow) a “full blown political crisis” is looming. I received this almost simultaneously from Evgeny and from Mike, so a thankful hat tip to both.
Before we get into whether or not any kind of political crisis actually looks likely, let’s take a closer look at the Wall Street Journal‘s sources. After all, they’re idiots, so it’s probably not fair to blame them for just printing what keeps them happy in their fool’s paradise. That’s what they usually do, and we know what makes them happy, so there should be no surprises there. So let’s take a look at the Center for Strategic Studies, and Mr. Dmitriev.
The Center for Strategic and International Studies is a big organization, with projects all over the world: Mikhail Dmitriev is president of the Moscow Center for Strategic Studies, but the headquarters are in Washington, DC. CSIS celebrates being around for 50 years this year (Happy Birthday, guys), and states as its goal, “…finding ways to sustain American prominence and prosperity as a force for good in the world“. Although CSIS is a non-profit organization, it receives about 16% of its funding from the U.S. government and another 24% or so from American corporations. Its Board of Trustees includes Richard Armitage – former Foreign Policy Adviser to both Reagan and George W. Bush, signatory to the “Project for a New American Century” (so are Anders Aslund, Nicholas Eberstadt, Max Boot, Donald and Robert Kagan, William Kristol, John McCain, Michael McFaul, Randy Scheunemann and Radek Sikorski) and source of the leak that cost CIA operative Valerie Plame her job. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Bill Frist, who famously told Russia it could not be considered for WTO membership because of its horrible human-rights record in the same year that the photos of abuses at Abu Ghraib were made public, James Schlesinger and Brent Scowcroft – former Secretary of Defense and National Security Adviser, respectively.
As if that were not enough attitude-by-association, Mikhail Dmitriev serves also on the Advisory Council of the Carnegie Moscow Center, itself a subsidiary entity of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Fellow Advisory Council members are Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Pozner, Vladislav Inozemtsev, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Yevgeny Yasin and Grigory Yavlinsky. Resident experts at the Carnegie Moscow Center include Masha Lipman, Nikolay Petrov and Lilia Shevtsova.
None of that is by way of implying Mr. Dmitriev is stupid, and none of the people mentioned above is stupid, either (with the possible exception of the writers of the Wall Street Journal). However, the westerners listed are all tireless agitators for American-style democracy (which is to say, a political system in which the people have a free vote, but in which corporations are also considered people and have an unlimited ability to financially influence politics) and for regime change in any country where they assess it to be not present, while the Russians are all committed liberal ideologues sworn to overthrow the Putin government. It might be just me, but I’m bound to suggest Mikhail Dmitriev has a vested interest in seeing a reversal of fortune for Mr. Putin.
Well, now that we’ve come this far together, let’s take a look at the article, shall we? According to Mr. Dmitriev’s report, “the erosion of confidence can’t be stopped“. Ummm….where’s he getting his figures, and could we see some? I’d be interested, because according to VTsIOM, Putin’s popularity is unchanged from April 15th 2012 to May 13th 2012 at 53%. In between it went to 52% and down to 48% before returning to 53%. I haven’t seen any current figures from the Levada Center, but Levada describes VTsIOM as a reliable source, Levada used to be part of VTsIOM and the two use the same methodology. What erosion of confidence?
According to the Wall Street Journal, Mr. Dmitriev’s study is being “closely watched” because his center was “the only major one to accurately predict early last year that support for the regime was plunging and that it would face a crisis as early as December’s parliamentary elections.”
Support was plunging? Do tell. Because according to Levada, support for United Russia was exactly the same at 34% by the standard of public opinion in November 2011 – a month before the Duma elections – as it had been in August of that year and was only a single percentage point lower than it was at the beginning of the year. In the Spring it was up to 39%. Support didn’t become a crisis until western NGO’s like Golos began a full-court press of insinuations about election-rigging – after extensive beachhead preparation in the form of Navalny shouting about the Party of Crooks and Thieves – exactly as they did in 2007. According to this article, co-written by the same author as that of the piece that is the subject of this post, the weaker showing by United Russia was a surprise; their results were “unexpectedly weak” and Putin had to “contend with an apparent drop in the party’s popularity“. What? Didn’t Mr. White monitor Mikhail Dmitriev’s center, which predicted plunging support right from the beginning of the year? But this is standard practice for the wolves trailing the sled of Russian government; find an unsurprising weakening of a particular rating – which might be due to anything from holes in the roads to removal of a government subsidy – and dress it up as evidence the people are ready to rise up in their righteous millions and smite the leaders who so casually betray their interests. An article in last year’s Washington Post, by none other than Masha Lipman, illustrates this perfectly. Under the teaser headline, “In Russia, Growing Rumblings of Discontent”, Masha gleefully tells us “The souring public mood is spurred in part by a growing sense of insecurity as people realize their relative well-being is precarious and by mounting exasperation at social injustice and bureaucratic corruption and impunity.” Ooooo; careful, Masha – you went off-message there for a second. You’re supposed to insist that the rise of the new middle class coincides with a contempt for the old, dirty, corrupt leadership that led to their prosperity. If they actually were “insecure about the precarious nature of their well-being”, why in hell would they choose an unknown, unproven leader who had never led anything bigger than a political rally over a proven driver of national prosperity? Do you think Russians are stupid? And the reference she cites in support of the leadership’s supposedly free-falling ratings is clear that “At first glance, the rating of the head of state has actually declined. Yet, if you look at the data for the entire last year (the Levada Center conducts these polls on a monthly basis), then it will most likely look like fluctuation of the rating. In various months the approval rating of the head of state fell to 72 percent and rose to 77 percent. The average number for 2010 in terms of the approval rating for Dmitry Medvedev was 74.5 percent. Obviously, it would be appropriate to compare this number to the same average for the entire 2011, and not only the results of January’s poll...This means that celebratory statements in the headlines of some publications are premature.” The same reference goes on to point out that a survey conducted by the Associated Press concludes that Barack Obama’s popularity (at the time) has suddenly gone up and that 53% of the American people approve of his performance – but polls only 1000 people. Another by Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, which concluded that 49 percent of the people demanded Berlusconi’s resignation, polled only 600.
Well, let’s move on. Again with the “biggest anti-Kremlin protests in two decades”. That’s actually true. But it would be equally true if the protests had drawn less than 500. How big does a demonstration have to be to be bigger than nothing? There were no significant protests in the last two decades. Ah, but that’s where all the advantages lie with the Liberals of LaLa Land. If there are protests, it’s because the people demand to be free of Putin’s authoritarian yoke. If there are none, it’s because they have been beaten into submission by Kremlin Kruelty Inc. until they lack the will to lift a finger in their own defense. Spin, spin, spin. The biggest demonstration drew much less than 200,000 in a city with a population of more than 13,000,000, and all the rest were significantly smaller.
According to Dmitriev, Putin “has signaled little change in his inner circle, this week appointing mostly close loyalists to the new cabinet and transferring unpopular officials to new jobs, rather than firing them“. Hmmmm. According to all-over-the-map nutjob Anders Aslund, still regarded as something of a foreign policy idiot savant in some circles – including the ones that supply the Russian liberatsi with much of their support – “The old cabinet was stacked with ministers considered highly corrupt, including former KGB officers and Putin cronies from his days in the St. Petersburg city government. With a couple of exceptions, they are all gone…the group is in fact dominated by liberal technocrats“. What do you say, boys? Somebody is obviously full of poo. You can’t both be right, yet you are both pompous asses who could never entertain the notion of being wrong. Hey, who wants popcorn? This could be a good movie. Clash of the Tools.
Mr. Dmitriev’s center does not use polls to support its conclusions; it uses “focus groups”, claiming the results are “more predictive”. I was not overly familiar with the concept, so I looked it up. Here’s what I learned: it’s a form of research in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, etc… Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. Presumably, in such a group, members could also argue to convince other members. Criticism of the method suggests “the results obtained are influenced by the researcher, raising questions of validity“. If there were any criticism that could cast doubt on a method used to obtain opinion regarding the government’ s leadership by an organization so collectively motivated to overthrow the government, that’d be it. Similarly directed results can be obtained dependent on the wording of referendum questions, such as “Do you agree Vladimir Putin should be allowed to exercise absolute power and make up the rules as he goes along?” Never mind that no such situation exists or will exist in the real world; most people are going to say “No”, which will then be interpreted as “the entire population of Russia turning against Putin”. Further criticism suggests focus groups are often motivated by a desire to please rather than offering their own opinions and suggestions, and that the data realized are often “cherry-picked to support a foregone conclusion”. Except for the fact that liberals would never do that, I’d find that a concern. Yes, I was being sarcastic.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin just keeps playin’ that rock and roll. Even his strongest detractors admit he had the support of the majority in the presidential election, and that’s the voice he hears; the solid backbeat of the Russian citizenry who, although they probably do have complaints about healthcare and the national road system and infrastructure, believed Mr. Putin’s promises to hear and address their concerns. Although his position does offer him a chance to make it, and play anything he wants to play, there is no evidence that he does so to enrich himself or increase his exercise of personal power over the common man. Day in, day out, against a constant barrage of criticism from the western press and its manufactured opposition movement; to me, there is a kind of tired nobility about it.
National leadership has a lot in common with rock and roll – if it was easy, everyone would do it.
Editor’s Note: Eugene Ivanov of The Ivanov Report has pointed out that the parallels drawn between the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and the Center for Strategic Research in Moscow are based only on the similarity in names and that they are not directly connected. This is correct, and I ask readers to disregard the gory portrayals of Richard Armitage and other well-known American neoconservatives as relevant to the philosophy of Mikhail Dmitriev, as thev probably are not. However, readers should recall that Dmitriev remains active on the Advisory Council of the Moscow Carnegie Center, which is supported by the Russia and Eurasia Program, which is a CSIS member organization. Also, Mikhail Dmitriev is a frequent speaker at CSIS events and collaborator on CSIS initiatives.
My thanks to Eugene for the redirection, and for the instructive research it entailed.