Congratulations, Mr. Putin

For the second time, we find ourselves with nothing more to say regarding Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Back in October 2011, we shut down activity on La Russophobe after Vladimir Putin announced he would return to power for a third term as president and the world simply acquiesced, clearly indicating it had no intention of listening to our warnings.  Now, as Vladimir Putin has successfully rolled tanks into Ukraine and again faces no significant opposition from the outside world, it is again clear that Putin has won.  Our warnings have fallen on deaf ears once again and there is nothing we can do other than what we did back in October 2011, simply shut down activity on this blog in silent protest.  You win, Mr. Putin. It obviously requires powers far greater than ours to address the neo-Sovietization of Russia, and it is painfully clear that the people of Russia have no intention of doing so.  In the past we have criticized Alexei Navalny for not stepping aside to clear the way for others when it was clear he was not the person to lead the Russian democracy movement, and we do not want to be accused of making the same mistake.

John Boehner was Right on Russia

Over on the powerful and influential American Thinker blog, LR publisher and founder Kim Zigfeld issues a blast from the past and shows how U.S. House Speaker John Boehner got Russia right while U.S. President Barack Obama was getting it woefully, horribly wrong.  Well before Obama was reelected, Boehner warned Americans that Obama’s “reset” policy on Russia was inappropriate and dangerous, yet Americana still elected Obama and the result has been disastrous aggression in Ukraine and vicious, brutal, neo-Soviet revanchism within Russia itself.

Putin shows Yellow on Syria

Writing in the Moscow Times, Alexander Golts echoes the thoughts of numerous Russian pundits in claiming that Russia scored a “brilliant diplomatic victory” in Syria over chemical weapons in recent days. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What actually happened is that the world saw Russia show palpable terror at the prospect of U.S. bombing of Syria to destroy chemical weapons. Instead of standing up to the U.S. on behalf of its ally, Syria, which Russia insisted had not used any chemical weapons, Russia sold Syria out.  Putin rapidly agreed to help strip its ally of a formidable part of its military arsenal and to subject it to the indignity of international inspections. Let’s not forget that this is the same road traveled by Iraq, a road which ultimately led to the country being obliterated and the ruler killed.

Russia has shown it has neither the diplomatic nor the military assets to stand up to American power. It has shown it is not willing to go to the wall for any ally when confronted by credible threats of American power. It has shown that American will get its way whenever such issues arise.  Any remaining Russian ally can only be appalled.

This crackdown on chemical weapons is just one step on the road to ultimately unseating the Syrian dictatorship. What will Russia say when the U.S. demands that Syria liquidate other weapons systems, and cease support for terrorist organizations like Hezbollah? The answer is obvious.

Meanwhile, if Russia is unable to satisfy the U.S. that it can purge Syria of chemical weapons, as seems likely based on Mr. Golts’s analysis, then Russia will face double humiliation. First the world will see that Russia could not deliver on its promise to purge Syria of WMD, and then it will see yet another Russian ally tumble into rubble under American guns.

Lyosha 9%

In Moscow’s mayoral election, 8.7% of the city’s voters went to the polls and supported Alexei Navalny, just over 630,000 people out of roughly 7.25 million eligible voters. Another way of putting it is that 91.3% of Moscow’s voters rejected Navalny, either by staying home or actually voting for somebody else.

So Navalny is Lyosha 9%.

Having seen that there were only 630,000 Muscovites willing to support Navalny has two devastating implications for his protest movement. First, it shows that the number of protesters he brought to the streets, never more than 100,000, was a tiny fraction of those who shared his views in Moscow. On the other hand, It also shows that Navalny’s promise to put 1 million supporters on the streets was always pure poppycock.

As we previously reported, Navalny’s pre-election polling showed that his negatives were significantly higher than his positives (more respondents said they definitely would not vote for him than said they would do so), and his post-election polling showed that his campaign did not have any affect at all on either public support for Vladimir Putin or for a national campaign by Navalny.

Pre-election polling had also clearly shown that only ten percent of all Moscow voters supported Navalny at most.  His 8.7% tally on election day was perfectly consistent with the polling, with a small fraction of his active supporters choosing to stay at home on election day in a predictable manner (in fact, but for a frenzied last-minute get-out-the-vote push by Navalny’s forces, the number would have been a bit higher).

Navalny’s bid for Moscow mayor ended in disastrous failure, just as we predicted prior to the election. It was confirmed that Navalny does not even have double-digit support within his own bastion of strength, Moscow, and it was confirmed that he simply does not exist as a national politician.  On the other hand. Navalny’s participation in the race permitted the Kremlin to fully legitimize the Moscow administration it has hand-picked, and show that it is not afraid of meeting Navalny on the electoral battlefield.  This works to legitimize Navalny’s conviction as well.

In short, Navalny played right into the Kremlin’s hands and walked into an electoral meat grinder, ending for all practical purposes his ability to claim Russia has a significant opposition movement and he leads it.  The only question now is whether Lyosha 9% will cling to power the same way Lenin did after he heads to prison, causing the so-called movement to degenerate further into disarray, or whether he will act like a patriot and statesman and pass the baton to someone who may fare better.

Five Years for Navalny (for starters)

Navalnysmirking

The only thing that was more sickening than the obviously prefabricated verdict against Alexei Navalny which was announced today in Kirov was the pathetic spectacle of Navalny smirking like an ape at a photographer as he stood in the courtroom before the judge in an open, short-sleeved casual shirt.  Near him in the foreground stood his partner, also convicted, smirking in a t-shirt and looking for all the world like a mafia goon.

You only have to watch the movie Gandhi to see how inappropriate Navalny’s behavior was, and how unlike the leader of a great protest movement who wants to show himself more civilized than the cruel regime his fighting. Though firm and resolute, Gandhi always behaved with the utmost respect towards the judges who convicted him on political charges.  And Gandhi brought the British Raj to its knees.  Navalny fraternizes with skinheads, acts like one of them in court, and has no chance whatsoever to be the savior of Russia.

Navalny was sentenced to five years in a penal colony, one less than the prosecution had asked for and half the time he could have drawn.  But as the treatment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky clearly shows, the Kremlin may well intend to keep Navalny behind bars forever (with a five year conviction, Navalny will conveniently be behind bars until the next presidential “election” passes).  There are three more sets of charges against Navalny already in the pipeline, the same pattern followed with Khodorkovsky.  Amazingly, Garry Kasparov’s website reported back in April that the five-year sentence and courtroom arrest that Navalny received had been ordered by Moscow after summoning the judge there before the trial began.  As if that weren’t enough, Navalny was not even permitted to cross-examine the one witness against him, nor to call any witnesses in his own defense.  So it couldn’t be more clear that this was a rigged judicial event in the Soviet style.

On Facebook, more than 50,000 Russians were invited to participate in a protest against the trial on Manezh Square in Moscow, but as of now less than 20% of them have accepted.  A new poll from Levada clearly shows that the spirit of opposition has waned dramatically under Navalny, not grown, and that is clear from the shrinking size of the protest crowds Navalny has been able to assemble.

But Navalny’s weakness was made most abundantly clear when the Kremlin did not hesitate in allowing him to place his name on the ballot for Mayor of Moscow.  The Kremlin knew full well that Navalny couldn’t come close to winning a free and fair election against the popular incumbent, that the election wouldn’t be fair and he’d be easily routed, and that he’d be in prison long before the votes were counted.  So instead of giving Navalny something to chew on, it handed him a candidate ID card and said:  “Knock yourself out, buddy. Good luck with that!”

Nonetheless, we see this conviction as a good result for opposition forces. It’s not going to cause a radical increase in opposition activity, nor will it make Navalny a hero or a better man, much less a Mandela.  But it does provide some moral high ground for the opposition, a useful martyr, and most of all it forces them to sink or swim. If they are to continue, they must have a new leader who will pick up Navalny’s standard and carry on. Almost inevitably, that person will be an improvement from the totally failed policies of Navalny himself.

As shown below, immediately after Navalny’s sentence was announced the MICEX Russian stock index began to plunge, fast approaching the 1,400-point psychological barrier.

MICEX

Once again, the Kremlin has shown it has no hesitation in using political charges in a commercial context. How can any Russian investor trust that he/she won’t be the next Navalny? They cannot, and that is why Russia continues to be plagued by one of the worst capital flight problems in the world.

Russia and America, on the Brink of War

First, Russia allowed Edward Snowden to board a Russian jet in Hong Kong and fly to Moscow.

Then, it allowed Snowden to violate Russian law by remaining for weeks in the Moscow airport transit zone, when she should have been there for days at most.

Next, it provided Snowden with what the U.S. government has called a “propaganda forum” at the airport, during which this venal criminal sought to further his attacks on the USA and his escape from U.S. justice.  It allowed human rights groups to participate in the forum as well as journalists, groups which Russia has condemned and sought to eject from the country as purported dangers to Russian national security.  The White House press secretary acidly chided Russia on its hypocrisy, challenging the Kremlin to let human rights do their work throughout Russia, not just at the Moscow airport.

Finally, Russia continued to let it be known that it would never extradite Snowden from Russia and might give him political asylum to protect him from American justice.

All these deeds amount to acts of war by Russia against the United States. Snowden has been publicly identified by the President of the U.S. as a major American criminal figure. The President has specifically raised the issue of Snowden with Russia, and has demanded that Russia not provide aid and comfort to him.  Snowden has broken U.S. law by stealing highly classified information and releasing it to the public and then he has fled into the arms of countries like China, Russia and Venezuela who are enemies of the U.S. and who reject basic American values like democracy. Snowden has also associated himself with the venal Wikileaks organization, whose founder is also a fugitive from the justice of many countries.

When true freedom fighters like Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Mohandas Gandhi broke the law, they did not flee to countries who were enemies of their nations.  They stayed right where they are, accepted arrest and challenged the validity of the laws under which they were prosecuted, ultimately bringing needed change to the countries.  Snowden’s actions stand in stark contrast to the actions of such heroes, and clearly brand him as the criminal he is.

But despite all this, Snowden has done the USA a great favor.  He has clearly shown Americans that Russia is their enemy, as Russia has eagerly and repeatedly rushed to Snowden’s defense.  Even as Russia complains that the West refuses to arrest and extradite figures such as William Browder and Boris Berezovsky, Russia itself refuses to extradite those who are charged by the USA. Russia continues to provide aid and comfort to rogue anti-American regimes in places like Syria, Iran and Venezuela, and it continues its frenzied efforts to revive the USSR under KGB leadership.

We can’t help wondering what Russians and their government would do if the U.S. allowed a man wanted by the Russian government for high crimes against the Russian state to fly to JFK airport, hole up there for weeks, and hold a press conference attacking Russia. We wonder how Russians and their government would react if the U.S. were to publicly consider giving this criminal asylum to protect him from Russian justice.

Well, in fact we don’t have to imagine. We know how Russians reacted when Britain refused to extradite Boris Berezovsky.  Russia’s reaction was swift and furious.  It launched virulent attacks on Britons throughout Russia, including even an attack on the British Council.  Russians screamed loudly and furiously that Britain had no right to shield Berezovsky, and then they turned around and shielded Andrei Lugovoi, the accused killer of Alexender Litvinenko, from British justice.

But there’s a big difference between Berezovsky and Snowden, of course. Berezovsky was only accused of stealing money to line his pockets, not stealing and publishing secrets which could assist Russia’s enemies in destroying Russia.   Refusing to extradite Berezovsky might be a irritant to Russia, but it’s not an act of war.

And there’s another difference:  Snowden isn’t British, he’s American.  As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has pointed out, America has repeatedly extradited wanted Russian criminals to Russia, and there is no Snowden or even Berezovsky being given aid and comfort in the USA.  So Russia’s harboring of Snowden is that much more outrageous.

Snowden has exposed the craven policy of appeasement that has been pursued for five years now by the Obama administration.  Now Americans and the world clearly see that there never was any “reset” of relations between Russia and America as Obama claimed, that Russia’s proud America-hating KGB spy ruler has only continued to work towards America’s destruction.

Now. the USA and Russia stand on the brink of war.  With double Russia’s population, ten times its financial resources and host of powerful allies, Russia has no more chance to prevail in this war than did the USSR.

Spectacular Russian Failure at Wimby

Based on the draw at the All-England Club, at least three Russian women should have made the round of 16 this year at the world’s most important tennis tournament:  Maria Sharapova (#3), Maria Kirilenko (#10) and Nadia Petrova (#16).

But why be so pessimistic? Why couldn’t Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (#21) or Elena Vesnina (#22) or Elena Makarova (#27) have played heroically and taken out a higher ranked player or two? Shouldn’t Russia have hoped to have four or five players vying for spots in the quarterfinals?

Yes, they should. But when the rubber met the road not one Russian woman did so. Not. One.

Two Americans reached the round of 16.  A British woman made recent history and did so as well. But. Not. One. Russian.

Sharapova was booted out of the tournament in the second round in easy straight sets by a player not ranked in the world’s top 130.

Kirilenko did even worse, losing her very first match of the tournament to an unseeded rival.  Petrova did the same. Both Russians lost in easy straight sets, just like Sharapova. Not only did they lose, in other words, they lost disgracefully and pathetically.

Makarova was the only one of six seeded Russian players who didn’t humiliate her country; she managed to reach the third round and lost there to a much higher seed, pushing her opponent to a third set.

So once again, Russia was exposed as a total fraud when it comes to women’s tennis.  Another year, another epic collapse by the Russians. And let’s not forget that Russia’s “best” player, Sharapova, doesn’t even live in Russia and didn’t learn her game there, she emigrated to the USA as a child and hardly ever returns to Russia.

Yeltsin Kicks Putin’s Ass

Growth Graph
In 1999, the year before Vladimir Putin ascended to the Russian presidency and the final year of rule by Boris Yeltsin, the Russian economy snapped out of its doldrums and posted impressive growth of 6.4%. The next year, before Putin’s policies could possibly have had any effect, it soared to 10%.

It’s an absolute lie that the Putin economy then took flight and saved Russia from the ravages of Yeltsin.  Under Putin, the average rate of GDP growth has been just 5.1%, considerably less than what Russia enjoyed inYeltsin’s final year, and as Anders Aslund points out in the Moscow Times Putin isn’t responsible for the growth that occurred on his watch. That growth began under Yeltsin, not Putin, and it was the result of rising world oil prices due to a global economic boom.  In the period when Russia’s GDP growth spiked under Putin, 2003-2007, the price of a barrel of crude oil doubled, from $30 per barrel to $60 per barrel. Nothing remotely that dramatic happened under Yeltsin.  In 2009, when the Russian economy collapsed, the price oil fell by half, from $100/barrel to $50/barrel.

When oil prices tumbled in 2009 due to a global economic downturn, Russia saw a massive recession in which GDP constricted by a whopping 7.5%.  As shown in the graph above, in 2001, the first year when Putin’s policies could credibly be said to have come into force, economic growth fell dramatically. It wasn’t until 2003, when the price of oil soared upwards, that growth exceeded Yeltsin’s 1999 pace, and in only four of Putin’s 12 years in power so far has it done so. In ever other year, Putin’s economy lagged behind Yeltsin’s benchmark, sometimes dramatically so.  Russia’s current GDP growth rate is half what it was at the end of Yeltsin’s rule.

Even if you delete 2009 from Putin’s record and consider only the other years, Putin’s average rate of economic growth is just 6.2% per year, still clearly less than what Yeltsin achieved ten years earlier.  As the chart indicates, seven times during the Putin years economic growth has fallen from year to year, while only five times has it risen from year to year.

But you can’t take away 2009. In that year, Russia paid the price for ten years of rule in which Putin failed to ween the nation off its dependence on crude oil and engaged in profligate waste of Russian resources by restarting the cold war and initiating a massive military buildup.

Russia is being egregiously harmed by the rule of Vladimir Putin, not helped. Under Putin, economic growth has been minimized rather than maximized, and the chance to alter Russia’s future has been squandered rather than exploited.

Since 2009, Russian economic growth has never exceeded 4.5%  It fell dramatically in 2012 compared to 2011, and it has fallen again the first two quarters of 2013.  As we’ve previously reported, even officials of the Putin administration itself now admit Russia is mired in yet another recession.

And all of this is perfectly predictable. Putin is not an economist or businessman, he is a proud career KGB spy. He knows nothing about how to run an economy or a business, he was educated in the Soviet Union and taught only how to hate, lie and destroy.

Russians HEART Zhirinovsky

Vladimir-Zhirinovsky-Quotes-1“То, что женщина — определенный момент есть, конечно, потому что сложно отвечать за деньги огромной страны, здесь больше нужны мужские мозги, даже они не выдерживают”, — сказал Жириновский.

“Regarding women, well, there’s a time and a place for everything of course, but it’s rather dicey to put the country’s entire money supply in the hands of a woman, for something like that you’d really like to the brains of a man,” said Zhirinovsky.

In the most recent parliamentary election in Russia, which occurred in December 2011, the Liberal Democratic Party led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky won the votes of more than 7.5 million Russian citizens.  This amounted to nearly 12% of the almost 65 million votes cast and handed Zhirinovsky control over 56 of the 450 votes to be had in the Russian parliament, called the Duma (which means “thinking place”).

Zhirinovsky collected three times more votes than did Grigori Yavlinsky and his Yabloko Party, which did not earn one single seat the new Duma.

Zhirinovsky’s vote total increased gigantically from the prior election in 2007. Four years earlier, Zhirinovsky had collected only 5.6 million votes and held control over  just 40 seats in the Duma.  His vote tally increased by a whopping 35% and his delegation expanded by a stunning 40% over the next four years.

Zhirinovsky is a madman.  He hates women, and there are only two of them in his party’s entire Duma delegation. As his brazen comments quoted above make clear, his hatred of women trumps his love for Vladimir Putin, and he was prepared to attack Putin for daring to name a woman for the job of Central Bank head. He believes a woman is biologically unqualified to hold such a position.

He routinely makes public statements that clearly show he is completely out of his mind. He once famously demanded that the USA return Alaska to Russia, and he spews out venom designed to provoke international incidents at every opportunity.

So naturally he’s a beloved leader of millions of Russians, for whom he speaks and by whom he is admired.  Those who aren’t attracted by a party run by a proud KGB spy or the Communist Party flock to Zhirinovsky in droves, handing him vast power.