Levada Writes an Epitaph for Navalny

Alexei NavalnyLevada’s latest poll (Russian-language link) regarding Alexei Navalny is bad news almost beyond words. It is a political epitaph.

The stunning bottom line:  only 9.7% of Russian citizens both know who Navalny is and would consider voting for members of his political party as candidates for the State Duma. An overwhelming 67% of Russians who know Navalny would not vote for his team.

But there is even worse news for Navalny:  That 9.7% number is even smaller than it was one month ago. Then, 10.3% of Russian citizens both knew who Navalny was and would consider voting for his party.  Navalny is getting weaker, not stronger, as his name recognition is growing. While 51% of Russians knew who Navalny was a month ago, 54% do now.

As for Navalny personally, just 16.2% of Russians both know who he is and have an opinion that is somehow positive about him.  10.8% of those who know him have an opinion that is somehow negative, while the overwhelming majority of Russians either have no idea who Navalny is or know and don’t care.  49% of those who know Navalny have no opinion about him.

Levada didn’t ask its respondents whether they would consider voting for Navalny personally, but that 9.7% who would vote for his party is almost the exact share of the Moscow electorate that Navalny collected when he ran for Mayor.  It appears there is a glass ceiling over Navalny’s head around ten percent.

Navalny faces a whole new round of prosecutions by the Kremlin, and Putin has just upped the ante by actually seizing Navalny’s financial assets, the same thing that happened to Mikhail Khodorkovsky. This move will make it that much more difficult for Navalny to pay his lawyers and defend himself, and makes it clear that the Kremlin has Navalny firmly in its cross hairs.  It’s equally clear that Navalny does not have the kind of political support in the population that might serve to protect him from the Kremlin’s attacks.

Moscow in Financial Free Fall Under Putin

“Moscow was never going to be an international financial center.  That was a joke.”

— A Western banker working in Moscow, to the New York Times.

Twice a year, the financial consulting firm Z/Yen prepares a ranking of about 75 world cities assaying the potency of each as a international financial center.

In September 2011 Moscow ranked #61.

One year later, it dropped to #64.

In March 2013, Moscow fell further to #65.

And in the most recent survey, September 2013, Moscow dropped again, falling to #69.

Despite repeatedly promising to transform Moscow into a leading global financial center, what Vladimir Putin is actually doing is pushing Russia backwards.  In the past two years, Moscow has shed nearly 15% of its standing as a world financial center, so that now only a handful of cities are less significant

At present there’s hardly any difference between Moscow’s ranking and that of St. Petersburg, a total international backwater, at #76.  Manila, Jakarta and Panama City are all more potent financial centers than Putin’s Moscow.

In fact, St. Petersburg isn’t the only Russian city that’s putting Moscow to shame.  The New York Times reports: “A survey by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation even ranked Moscow No. 30 out of 30 Russian cities for ease of doing business.”

 

Welcome to Vyazma

Vyazma

This is Vyazma, Russia, about halfway between Moscow and Smolensk.

Klimenkov

This is Alexander Klimenkov. He’s the mayor of Vyazma.  He’s also an Orthodox Priest. Separation of church and state? Not so much in Putin’s Russia.

Mayor Klimenkov is proud to say that the average monthly wage in his city is 11,691 rubles. That’s $363.29. For four forty-hour weeks of work, that works out to $2.27 per hour of work. And mind you, that’s the average wage. Average means that lots of people in Vyazma earn less than $2.27 per hour.

Mayor Klimenkov brags that the average wage in Vyazma is “constantly growing compared to previous years.”  In other words, it used to be even lower than $2.27 per hour.  Like, say, in Vladimir Putin’s second term.

Reflecting on life in Vyazma, which means “Sticky” because it was founded in a swamp, it seems the city should probably be renamed.

We think “Miasma” would be a perfect choice.

Putin and his Oligarchy

When Credit Suisse published its blockbuster report last week revealing that just 110 people control 35% of the wealth in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, it was predictable that there would be a frenzied, desperate effort to impugn the bank’s research. What’s surprising, however, is that the first such effort would come from Putin critic Leonid Bershidsky.

Bershidsky claims that Credit Suisse got it wrong because the bank didn’t pay enough attention to the value of Russian homes.  Bershidsky claims, without citing any source material, that there are millions of Russians in Moscow who own apartments given to them free when the USSR collapsed, and that the value of these apartments isn’t properly reflected in the Credit Suisse data. If it were, he opines, the 35% figure would drop significantly. He also claims that the GINI figure for Russia published by the CIA shows Russia’s income inequality figure isn’t that bad.  Finally, he claims it’s very hard to get good data on wealth distribution in the opaque, corrupt quagmire that is Putin’s Russia.

Bershidsky completely misses two major points in his analysis.

First, it’s somewhat ironic that while pointing out the complexities of measuring wealth in Russia that he says could have misled Credit Suisse, Bershidsky makes no effort to ask whether those complexities might affect his own analysis of the issue, including the GINI numbers he provides from the CIA, as well as those of Credit Suisse.

Second, and more important, the whole point of Credit Suisse’s work was to show that such complexities might mean that the world vastly misunderstands the extent of economic polarization in Russia. One thing is perfectly clear: Russia has a shockingly high number of billionaires and they absolutely dominate the nation’s non-real-estate wealth. That is, its liquid, spendable wealth. People who received free apartments after the collapse of the USSR can’t sell them, it’s their only place to live. They can’t borrow on them, because they have extremely low income (average wage in Russia less than $5/hour) and cannot replay the balance. And these apartments are tiny, oppressive little closets. While they may have value on paper in places like Moscow where wealth has accumulated and housing construction is delinquent, they are far less valuable elsewhere, and you can’t eat paper value.  To give a practical example: The fact that you own an apartment in Moscow doesn’t mean you are able to give a political contribution to Alexey Navalny out of the apartment’s value.

Nothing in Bershidsky’s commentary challenges Credit Suisse’s finding that the real money in Russia, the money that can be spent to achieve power, is held mostly by a tiny class of oligarchs. Nothing changes the fact that Putin was brought to power supposedly to liquidate this class, and instead only liquidated members (Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky) who opposed his grab for power. Nothing challenges the widely held view that Putin himself reaps enormous financial benefits from this oligarchy, and indeed may be one of the richest men in the world (allowing him routinely gift watches worth tens of thousands of dollars to strange children).

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.

Shocking Western Misreporting of Moscow Mayoral Election Results

Yesterday, the votes were counted in the first Moscow mayoral election in a decade.

Incumbent Sergei Sobyanin was reelected with 51.37% of the vote (roughly 1.2 million votes).  The runner-up was Alexei Navalny, who finished a whopping 24.13 points behind Sobyanin (collecting roughly 630,000 votes), who in turn nearly doubled Navalny’s vote total.  It was an absolute blowout, and Echo of Moscow radio declared it the cleanest Russian election in history so the issue of cheating by Sobyanin was off the table.

The only bright spot for Navalny was that just days before the election the Levada polling agency had pegged his support at 18%.  He got roughly the same number of votes as Levada predicted, but his share of the total was much larger because, shockingly, Sobyanin did a disgraceful job of getting his voters to the polling place.  Levada had shown Sobyanin with a dominant 60% share of the vote, but apparently overconfident and lazy Sobyanin’s forces sat back and let a big chunk of their support sit out the election.  But Navalny still ended up more than 30,000 votes short of forcing Sobyanin into a runoff.

And this bright spot was more than overshadowed by the astounding fact that two-thirds of Moscow voters (there are roughly 7.25 million of them) did likewise, simply ignoring what Navalny had claimed was the most important election in Russian history.  The world got the clear message that Russians simply don’t care about reform or change even as Putin pushes the Russian economy into a double-dip recession.  It was one of the most depressing moments of recent Russian history.  Moreover, as we previously reported Levada’s polling revealed the astounding fact that far more Muscovites said the would never, ever vote for Navalny than said they might do so. His negatives were far higher than his support. The notion that, as Navalny had repeatedly claimed, Moscow stood behind him and would show it given a fair chance, was absolutely blown to smithereens.

The utterly depressing voter turnout was made worse by absolutely godawful reporting from much of the Western press.

The Financial Times called Sobyanin’s win “narrow” and Fox News called it “close.” Narrow? Close? The actual fact was that Sobyanin won in a massive landslide, collecting twice as many votes as his nearest rival.  Granted, Sobyanin was “close” to being forced into a second-round runoff with Navalny, but in such a runoff election he would have utterly crushed Navalny, not least because of the wake-up call about mobilizing his support.

The headline on the article from the New York Times was that Navalny “says he can force  runoff.”  The entire lead paragraph is devoted to libelous speculation that the result might have been rigged simply because Navalny, who never reached 20% in the pre-election polls, did not win.  Navalny’s only “evidence” of fraud was the his own campaign’s exit polls showed him getting 7 points more support than he was allocated and Sobyanin five points less.  The NYT falsely claims that Navalny “defied expectations” when in fact he did no such thing. Expectations were defied, and brutally disappointed, by the voters of Moscow who sat home in droves, clearly showing they could not care less who rules Moscow.  There is zero evidence that Navalny got significantly more people to vote for him than pre-election polls indicated would do so.

But the most disgraceful reporting of all came from the Guardian in a perfectly wretched piece of garbage from Alex Luhn.  We’re not surprised by this, since the Guardian is the publisher of Miriam Elder, one of the worst Russia correspondents in the history of journalism.  The Guardian claimed that Vladimir Putin, who wasn’t even a candidate in the race, had got his “nose bloodied” by Navalny. It touted Navalny’s statement that the results had been falsified while totally ignoring the fact that nearly every Russian source said that the poll was mostly clean, and likewise ignoring the fact that the Kremlin had actively assisted Navalny in getting on the ballot in the first place. It completely ignore the pathetic level of voter turnout, which meant that in the end a mere 7.5% of all Moscow voters had gone to the polls to support Navalny.  And it ignored the fact that everywhere across the country Putin’s party of power prevailed, except in Ekaterinburg where for a second time the elected mayor is an opposition figure, clearly showing that it is possible for the right opposition candidate to prevail. Interestingly, the opposition candidate in E-burg did not come close to getting a majority but will take office anyway, because there is no requirement of getting a majority in E-burg.  So the standard Navalny wants to impose in Moscow would block the opposition victory in E-burg.

The type of repulsive, nauseating journalistic cheerleading engaged in by the Guardian and other so-called journalists who actively rooted for Navalny, urging him on and ignoring Navalny’s egregious faults (as we previously reported, AFP’s Maria Antonova was a noteworthy exception, highlighting Navalny’s blatant racism), hardly sets the right standard for Russian journalists to emulate and does the opposition movement no favors.  Navalny is a very weak candidate and a very weak leader, who has clearly shown he can’t motivate large number of Russians to join him in his crusade against Putin.  Better reporting might have encouraged a better candidate to come forward.  The opposition has instead squandered its best chance to actually influence politics in Russian capital.

For the third time, Navalny has failed to alter the results of a Russian election as he promised. First Navalny promised he would force a second Duma vote, and it didn’t happen. Then he swore he’d force Putin into a second presidential vote, but that didn’t happen either. And now his promise of actually winning the Moscow mayoral ballot, or at least forcing the incumbent into a runoff, has exploded in his face as well.

Three strikes and you’re out, Mr. Navalny.

Navalny Steps on a Rake

rake-take_the-simpsons_951Writing in the Moscow Times, columnist Georgy Bovt observes:  “Navalny has transformed the Moscow mayoral race into more than just a referendum on the best ways to cope with the city’s numerous problems. It has become a vote of confidence in the Kremlin and Putin.” Indeed, Navalny’s campaign slogan is:  “Change Russia. Start with Moscow.

Bovt’s comment highlights that Navalny’s campaign is a serious mistake, and will backfire badly in three important ways.

First, as Georgy notes, he’ll lose badly in his so-called bastion of strength, giving the Kremlin the right to argue he wasn’t jailed for political reasons (why should it fear someone so weak?).

Second, by ignoring the plight of the Moscow voters, whose city is far from perfect, asking them to sacrifice their own interests in order to lash out at Putin, he only alienates them.

Finally, Navalny also harms his image in the West. His barbaric, racist statements about non-Slavs in Moscow go a long way to discrediting him as liberal seeking to reverse Putin’s policies.  He’ll also be discredited there, of course, when his low level of support in his base of operations is exposed by the election.

These are just the latest in a long line of critical miscalculations by Navalny. Yet with all his mistakes he’s still far more successful than any other opposition leader, which is a sad commentary on the state of the opposition. Soon, he’ll be in jail and largely forgotten.

In Russia, where Navalny is Concerned, Good News is Bad News

We have seen yet another appalling wave of misreporting from the West’s Russia journalists in reacting to the temporary release of Alexei Navalny from custody. Grossly misrepresenting the reason for the release, many of these idiots have claimed it was caused by the minor street protests that followed Navalny’s jailing (Navalny himself has tried to claim this in a shameless propaganda move seeking to bolster his flagging fortunes). Nothing could be further from the truth.  Indeed, the notion that street protests somehow “forced” the Kremlin to release Navalny is the single most ridiculous assertion we have heard about Russia in the past decade.

In fact, the Kremlin wants Alexei Navalny to run for Mayor of Moscow. It knows he has absolutely no chance of winning, and that when he loses it will score not one but two impressive victories. First, it will legitimize the office of Moscow Mayor, having proved the office was filled after a truly competitive election. It can hold this result up for propaganda purposes over and over whenever challenged about its democratic bona fides.  Second, it will delegitimize Navalny.  If he runs in Moscow, his bastion, and fails, he will be exposed as a charlatan and nobody will be able to claim that Moscow jailed him in a political move to silence a dangerous rival.

On Facebook, Navalny invited over 50,000 Russians to appear at Manezh Square to protest his conviction. Only about 3,000 showed up.  Navalny has now been sentenced to five long years in prison, a conviction that will permanently disqualify him from ever again seeking public office and that will have him behind bars during the next presidential election.

And that’s only the beginning. As with Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the Kremlin has plenty more where that came from, so that it it can keep Navalny in jail as long as it likes. Radio Free Europe explains:

Russian prosecutors have opened three other legal cases against Navalny that could be brought to trial. One involves allegations that an advertising company headed by Navalny defrauded the Union of Rightist Forces political party of some $3 million in 2007. The second charges that a postal services company owned by Navalny and his brother deceived the Yves Rocher cosmetics firm. And the third claims he conspired to illegally privatize the Urzhum distillery in Kirov Oblast.

If this is good news for Navalny and his forces, they’d better get down on their knees and pray for some bad news.

Back in Moscow, Navalny made another one of this infamous promises, this time that he’d win the mayorship.  Those who heard this promise can’t help but remember his other promises:  To force a new Duma vote, to force Vladimir Putin into a runoff and to put a million people on the streets of Moscow in protests.  Needless to say, none of these things happened. Meanwhile, Navalny has been endorsing disturbing racist/nationalist political platforms, collaborating with skinhead nutjobs like Edward Limonov and Sergei Udaltsov, and continuing to perpetuate his own personality cult.  He shows no signs of being able to motivate the mass public, no signs of being willing to share power, and no signs of being anything remotely like a real hope for a better future for Russia.

Many Western scribes are totally ignoring all these harshly negative facts about Navalny. Their “reports” read like Soviet propaganda tracts. It’s just disgusting that even after being humiliated by their grossly, hideously biased statements about Navalny’s protest movement in the past being proved totally wrong, Western journalists can’t be even a little more careful the second time around.  Their gushing, fawning, misleading pseudo-reporting on Navalny only helps Russia speed its way towards oblivion. They are no friends of Russia.  To the contrary, they are Russia’s worst enemies.

Russia a World Leader in Human Trafficking

The Washington Post reports:

But while other countries are improving, Russia is moving backward. By Russian police estimates, there were 50,000 sex-trafficking victims — the majority of them age 16 or younger — in Moscow in 2007, according to the organization MiraMed. Hundreds of girls have disappeared from orphanages into prostitution, some lured with promises of jobs and others abducted. Many of them are trafficked abroad: The Protection Project, a Washington-based human rights institute, ranks Russia among the top 10 countries of origin for trafficked human beings.

Meanwhile, Russian authorities are methodically dismantling the country’s once-robust civil society. Human rights groups are required to register as foreign agents if they receive foreign assistance, and their leaders are increasingly harassed, hounded and jailed. The U.S. government has financially supported Russian anti-trafficking organizations in the past but can no longer do so because of restrictions enacted in November.

Will President Barack Obama have the courage to stand up to human trafficking in Russia?

Travel Advice on Russia: Don’t Go!

TravelGraphic

The graphic above shows the results of a survey of international cities among tourists who have visited them by TripAdvisor.  It shows the worst-performing cities across a series of eight criteria ranging from friendliness of the locals to quality of shopping.

The Russian capital city of Moscow was the very worst in the world in five of the eight categories, second from worst in a sixth and third from worst in a seventh.  The only one of the eight categories in which Moscow wasn’t among the three most wretched nations on the planet was clean streets.  Moscow’s antithesis is Tokyo, which dominates the list of best-performing cities in same way Moscow dominates the worst.

According to Mastercard, Russia doesn’t have a single one of  the top 20 cities of the world for for either tourist arrivals or receipt of tourist dollars.  According to Euromonitor, Moscow ranks #25 in the world for tourist arrivals with less than 4 million per year, while Russia’s second city of St. Petersburg ranks #47 with 2.5 million arrivals. Compare that with Istanbul’s 8 million and Bangkok’s 11 million to see how totally pathetic Russia’s performance really is.

The United States has not one but three cities ranking in the top 20 for international tourist spending:  New York with $20 billion, Los Angeles with $12 billion and Miami with $9 billion.    Russia doesn’t have a single city that is a member of this group.

There’s a simple explanation for all this miserable failure, of course:  Russians hate foreigners, and don’t want them in their country.  In fact, many Russians don’t really want to be there either. Vastly more Russians leave Russia to spend time in foreign countries than foreign tourists arrive in Russia to spend time there.  Russians reject foreign values and they have built a homogenized society that rejects foreign people.  Russians simply don’t care that vast sums of money are squandered in this way, just as they don’t care that their nation is one of the most corrupt on the planet, wasting untold billions more on this folly.

Russia is plagued by horrendous official corruption, which make the police even more dangerous than Russian’s virulent criminals to tourists.  Russia doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “customer service” and its cuisine is wretched.  Russia has terrifying risks of airline,  fire and highway disasters, and it is riddled with terrorist activity.  By contrast, Russia offers almost nothing in the way of blockbuster tourist attractions beyond a few museums loaded with looted art and a few unusual churches.

And by visiting Russia, tourists lend support to a venal, anti-democratic KGB regime that is obliterating basic Western values.

So the advice on travel to Russia is simple:  DON’T GO!