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Ben Aris of Business News Europe, Getting Russia Wrong

A recent blog post in the obscure Business News Europe attempts to take the Economist magazine to task for anti-Russia bias leading to fact errors.  What it succeeds in doing is proving that pro-Russia bias is at least as toxic.

The most amazing thing about the piece is that while criticizing the Economist for publishing anti-Russia “rants” based on emotion rather than facts, the author Ben Aris, who is BNE’s editor in chief, does exactly the same thing while defending Russia.  His hysterical screed is at least as one-sided, emotional, anti-Economist and fact-challenged as the Economist piece he purports to criticize. It makes for hilarious reading.

Unsurprisingly, Aris is a frequent contributor to Russia Beyond the Headlines as well as Russia Today, the Kremlin-owned and -operated propaganda websites.  So it’s hardly surprising he’d be unable to tell the truth about Russia.

Here are the errors, lies, fabrications and falsehoods Aris offers in his crazed, one-sided diatribe pandering to Putin:

(1)  Aris writes:  “The trouble is that, rather embarrassingly, the latest survey released in December [by Transparency International] showed Russia going from the ‘most corrupt country in Eastern Europe,’ to the “least corrupt.’ This even happened close to International Anti-corruption Day on December 9, yet none of the western press bothered to report it.”

This is just totally false and outrageously dishonest and inaccurate. TI’s latest 2013 survey gives Russia 127th place for corruption. Poland is #38, Hungary is #47, Czech Republic is #57, Slovakia is #61, Serbia is #72 and  Bulgaria is #77  — every one of them far less corrupt than Russia. So it’s really no big surprise that the “western press” didn’t report Russia is the least corrupt in Eastern Europe.

They didn’t because it’s not.

We sent a tweet to Aris about this blatant error. He didn’t respond or correct. Nice ethics there, Mr. Aris!

(2)  Aris writes:  “The Kremlin said the pure Games-related spending was closer to $5bn-7bn, but these comments have simply been ignored by almost everyone.”  He criticizes the Economist for failing to cite sources: “Journalism 101: ‘when citing statistics, you need to attribute them to the valid source so they can be checked.'”

Notice how while calling for citing sources Aris cites none to support his claim about “pure Games-related spending”? Isn’t that rather hypocritical?

The amount of money spent on the venues is not, of course, the issue, nor is the total amount. There’s nothing wrong with Russian spending big to give the world a first class Olympics, to quote LR founder Kim Zigfeld. The problem is that most of that money, where ever it was targeted, was stolen. The humiliating exposure of the poor quality of the venues once they started being used is clear, unquestionable proof of this.

(3) He writes: “Sochi is about as “unsuitable” for a skiing event as California or Granada in Spain, which also both have skiable mountains within easy driving distance of hot beaches.

Neither Granada nor California have ever has never hosted the Winter Olympics.  As our reader “Mark” points out, California did host them once. They took place in Squaw Valley in Northern California, near the mountainous Lake Tahoe.  You won’t find any palm trees surrounding Lake Tahoe, nor any salt water “hot beach” resorts, but during the summer you certainly could swim there.  There was massive controversy over the selection of Squaw Valley in Europe due to its climate and lack of facilities, just as was the case with Sochi. How odd that Mr. Aris chose not to mention this while claiming that it was somehow bizarre for the Economist to raise such issues.

(4) He writes:  “Putin is enjoying in the latest polls from the independent Levada Centre a popularity rating of 68% – his highest level since 2002. 

Actually, Levada’s data shows that less than one third of Russian voters are committed to choosing Putin for a fourth term.  Aris accuses the Economist of cherrypicking and “twisting” facts, but it’s actually Aris doing that.

(4)  He writes:  “Oil prices have gone up since the 1990s, but then so has the price of coffee in London. In real terms, the price of oil is not that far off the long-term average of $25 a barrel now that it was under Yeltsin.”

WHAT??? The inflation-adjusted price of oil when Yeltsin left office was $23.08. Today it is $87.52, almost FOUR TIMES higher. Just. WTF??

(5) He writes:  “More confusingly, when Putin took over oil was at $10 a barrel, yet in 2000 the economy grew by 10%. And it continued to grow by around 4-5% until 2005, and only then did the price of oil take off, climbing to a high of $150 a barrel. So if Putin’s recovery is entirely due to oil, how is it he managed to produce growth with the same oil prices that Yeltsin had?”

As noted above, oil was $23/barrel, not $10. More importantly, Russia’s economic growth in 2000 was due to Yeltsin’s policies in 1999, not Putin’s policies in 2000. Putin’s policies only started getting enacted in 2000, they didn’t take effect until 2001.  At that time growth immediately plunged, and it has never matched the level Yeltsin had when he left office.

(5)  He writes:  “Likewise, 2% growth predictions are not the consensus view and actually well below every one else’s estimates. Investment banks are predicting growth in a range from 2.4% and 3.5%, with the official Ministry of Economy predicting 2.8%. Indeed, the World Bank is ‘mildly optimistic’ and predicts 3.1%.”

Do you notice how, once again, Aris fails to provide real sourcing even as he demands it from the Economist? Which “investment banks”?

This is just another incredible, breathtaking lie.  Russia’s own minister of economic development has openly admitted that for the next fifteen years Russia’s economy will be in the doldrums and will lag far behind the world average, and that during this time Russia’s share of world GDP will plummet dramatically.

(6) He writes:  “Russia’s total dependence on oil is a myth.” Then, for the first time, he actually tries to prove something, citing a study from Finland.

Well.  So Russia is not dependent on oil, huh? That’s quite a big story for such a little fellow. Unfortunately, the facts are quite different.  The facts clearly show that the Russian stock market precisely tracks the price of oil, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and development has conclusively shown Russia’s dependence on oil and its precarious economic fundamentals, notwithstanding any obscure study Aris may seek to quote.

(7)  He writes:  “More generally, Russia’s recent successes in carrying out reforms (albeit at a slow pace) are also completely omitted. Russia has risen from 120th to 92nd in the World Bank’s Doing Business index; it was the world’s ‘best tax reformer’ in 2013, according to a recent PriceWaterCooper survey; and Moscow was ranked in the top three most attractive retail locations in a survey last year from Jones Lang LeSalle.”

“Albeit at a slow pace”????? Really???? Moving from #120 in the world to #92 is not anything any serious person can claim as somehow significant.  Aris totally ignores a horrifying litany of studies from around the world that confirm Russia is going backwards, not forwards, and is easily defeated by many third-world states. It’s simply amazing that Aris can attack the Economist for being one-sided and then do exactly the same thing himself.  Appalling.

(8) And he finishes with this amazing whopper:  “Indeed, far from being a basket case, Russia’s fundamentals are a wet dream for most European central bankers. Russia is in a league of its own if you compare debt (one of lowest in the world), budget deficits (almost none), currency account balance (positive) or unemployment (20 year record lows) with that of any country in Europe. But most compelling of all is in 2013 Russia was in third place in the UN’s foreign direct investment ranking: FDI inflows to Russia jumped by 83% to $94bn form the year before. The trouble is, all these numbers are a bit awkward and don’t really fit into this leader’s narrative – so they were just left out. That was easy, eh?

Easy, yes. It’s very easy to lie, ignore facts and data, and spew forth a torrent of emotional hogwash in the service of your Kremlin masters. But  it’s very hard not to get caught doing so, as Aris just has been.

Russia has low debt because it has little money and hoards it rather than investing it in the population, which is getting sicker by the day and doesn’t rank in the top 125 nations in the world for life expectancy.  The Russian ruble just hit its lowest level ever against the euro.

The FDI results Aris refers to are acknowledged by everyone to be a one-off occurrence due to a transaction with BP in which, ironically, the company was actually divested of meaningful control over its investments in Russia.  The trouble is, this fact doesn’t fit into Aris’s narrative that he’s smarter and more honest than one of the world’s leading business publications, so it was just left out.


13 responses to “Ben Aris of Business News Europe, Getting Russia Wrong

  1. Beetlejuice ⋅

    Why shouldn’t Poland be high on the list? They’re ruled by the most corrupt institution on the Earth: the Catholic Church.

    • larussophobe ⋅

      Being high on the list means you ARE NOT corrupt. Poland is the LEAST CORRUPT country in Eastern Europe.

      • Beetlejuice ⋅

        How’d you learn to read a scale? Blindfolded?

        Poland is a Catholic Afghanistan, need I say more? Least corrupt…pfft! Well, you still think Russia is the Soviet Union, so there you have it.

        • larussophobe ⋅

          The #1 country on the Transparency International list is Denmark. That is the least corrupt country in the world. #175, last place, is Somalia, the most corrupt. Russia has a much higher number than any other country in Eastern Europe. Higher numbers mean more corruption. You’re as clueless as Mr. Aris.

        • mccusa ⋅

          Beetlejuice, you are right, Russia is not the Soviet Union, Russia is just the third world country, the 18th century empire that is simply disintegrating. The latest example of this is the bail out money for Ukraine – stolen by Putin from the Pnesion Fund of Russia. By the way, Russia’s ‘l’eminence grise’ , the man behind the Putin is Sergei Shoigu – a true ruler of Russia – is an ethic Chinese from Tuva. As everybody knows, Tuva region was integral part of China until 1911, when Russia orchestrated the coup d’état, invaded this part of China, built several orthodox churches and declared the Region of Tuva ancient ethnic Russian territory. So we may say that Russia is already ruled by China.. By the way, the most expensive [35 billion dollars] self inflicted humiliation – the opening ceremony was pure idiotic Russia – that four Olympic Rings .. Priceless…

  2. Mark ⋅

    Squaw Valley California hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics.

    • larussophobe ⋅

      Thanks for the correction, Mark! We have updated our post accordingly. Apparently being an expert in this subject, you undoubtedly know that there was MASSIVE controversy over the selection of Squaw Valley, which is NOT a southern California resort with palm treets comparable to Sochi’s location in Russia, and that the Economist’s concerns about Sochi, criticized as somehow unreasonable by Mr. Aris, are EXACTLY the same type of concerns that were fairly expressed about Squaw Valley. We assume you agree that it’s extremely unfortunate that Mr. Aris chose to conceal these basic facts from his readers (or, even worse, didn’t know about them when claiming that California was just like Russia).

      • vlad

        FYI, Squaw Valley California is a high-mountain ski resort 4 hours away from San Francisco. The same way Krasnaya Polyana is a high-mountain ski resort 1 hour away from San Francisco. Both Squaw Valley and Krasnaya Polyana have populations close to 0, but both have great snow. San Francisco has a much warmer winter climate than Sochi. In other words, Krasnaya Polyana is as good a place for ski/snowboard/luge/biathlon/bobsled Olympic competitions as Squaw Valley.
        So, what’s the problem with giving the Olympics Krasnaya Polyana compared with Squaw Valley? Have you watched the Russian Olympics yet? Have you seen any lack of snow there?

        • Vlad ⋅


          FYI, Squaw Valley California is a high-mountain ski resort 3 hours away from San Francisco. The same way Krasnaya Polyana is a high-mountain ski resort 1 hour away from Sochi. Both Squaw Valley and Krasnaya Polyana have populations close to 0, but both have great snow. San Francisco has a much warmer winter climate than Sochi. In other words, Krasnaya Polyana is as good a place for ski/snowboard/luge/biathlon/bobsled Olympic competitions as Squaw Valley.
          So, what’s the problem with giving the Olympics to Krasnaya Polyana compared with Squaw Valley? Have you watched the Russian Olympics yet? Have you seen any lack of snow there?

  3. ⋅

    The roosky mudaks are going backward helped by the Orthodox church, a concern just as corrupt as the moskal mafia riggers of pooty poot poutine:

    “Vladimir Yakunin, a close associate of Russian President Putin, is behind the Moscow conference.
    The Economist has described Yakunin, who runs the railway monopoly in Russia, as “a former diplomat who served his country at the United Nations in New York and is believed to have held a high rank in the KGB.” Jessica Stein states directly in the Harvard Political Review that Yakunin is not only a member of Putin’s inner circle, but a former KGB official.
    The World Congress of Families describes itself as an international network of pro-family organizations, scholars, and leaders from more than 80 countries that seeks to restore the natural family as the fundamental social unit of society. Conservatives agree that its work has been very worthwhile on a global basis.
    However, its Russian connection is raising eyebrows.


  4. elmer ⋅

    Building Potemkin villages is not going to restore Russia’s regional influence or have a positive impact on the neighborhood. Only real reforms, genuine modernization and an open society can achieve that. If Russia chooses that path, all its neighbors will rush to embrace it.

    The Games are being held on the site of a 19th-century genocide, in which almost all Circassians, the original inhabitants of the Sochi area, were methodically killed or expelled to Turkey. That wound has been kept alive by the Kremlin’s current approach toward the Circassians who remain in the region, and in its attitude toward other peoples of the North Caucasus. Russia’s leaders persistently refuse to treat people from Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia and Kabardino-Balkaria as equal citizens. The Kremlin regards their homelands as colonies where it has to buy off the elite and suppress the rest of the population.

    This attitude was vividly demonstrated in the last few months when Russian security forces increased mass arrests of young people and took saliva specimens from most Muslim women because the government believed that a woman from Dagestan was responsible for a suicide bombing that killed 16 people. Such a heavy-handed colonial approach can only antagonize and radicalize the population, undermining Russia’s efforts to maintain control of the region.

    Mr. Putin is also mistaken to think that the Olympics will shore up his hold on power. The last time Russia acted as host to the Games was back in 1980. The Olympics that year were meant to be a triumph of Soviet leadership and a demonstration of the superiority of their system.

    Unfortunately for them, soon after the Games ended, the turmoil that eventually led to the demise of Soviet Communism began to grow worse. There are some striking similarities with Sochi, which, like Moscow, was turned into a showcase for the system. The Soviet regime didn’t allow nonMoscovites to enter the city — just as people from the region are now being shut out of Sochi.

    Mr. Putin once called the dissolution of the Soviet Union the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century, yet it seems he still fails to grasp why it happened. Just like Mr. Putin today, the Soviet leaders back then neglected the need for modernization, betting instead on consistently high energy prices.

    After 1980, falling oil prices and changes in technology led to the eventual meltdown of the Soviet Union. Today’s Russia is teetering on the edge of recession, despite its oil boom. More broadly, there is a fundamental contradiction between Mr. Putin’s effort to tighten the screws and restore the past, and the dreams of people in and around Russia who are striving for a better future. As a result, Mr. Putin’s fate might well be decided in the cold streets of Kiev rather than on the balmy slopes of Sochi.

  5. MCCUSA ⋅

    Message to Beetlejuice; Go on internet and order the t-shirt with the symbol of Russian idiocy so beautifully expressed by the Sochi four Olympic rings – only $24.50 – it is being sell like hot rolls …And expression of ‘Sochi problems’ has already become a part of world’s vocabulary to express total failure and humiliation. – PRICELESS. Changing the topic; the worst nightmare of Russia is the success of Poland; hence these schizophrenic rants e.g., ‘Catholic Afghanistan’ – speaking of religions how do you describe the Russian orthodox church – third Rome or Third Karakorum. No wonder the Greeks call their conversion of Russia to orthodoxy an ‘UNSUCCESSFUL ATTEMPT TO CIVILIZE’ …

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