Sunday, May 27, 2018

‘Chief Beneficiary’ of Putin’s Aggression in Ukraine and Syria is Moscow TV, New Poll Shows

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – There have been innumerable surveys of Russian attitudes over the last decade, but most of them have been limited in their value by the fact that participants likely answered some of the most important questions by saying what they believed those behind the polls wanted to hear, Igor Yakovenko says.

            But two polls, one taken in 2010 and a second just now by the Levada Center asking Russians to identify those things which give them the greatest satisfaction and joy do not suffer from that limitation, he continues; and they show that “a small revolution” has taken place in Russian preferences (

            In the two years, Russians were asked to identify those things that gave them the most pleasure and joy. (They could identify more than one.) In 2010, 28 percent said watching television did; in 2018, 34 percent; in 2010, 33 percent said a good income; in 2018, 26 percent. In 2010, 17 percent said eating well; in 2018. 24 percent.

            Most obviously, these results show that “watching television instead of receiving a good income is the essence of the mental revolution over the last years. And thus the answer to the question – who has become the chief beneficiary of the occupation of Crimea, the war against Ukraine and Putin genocide of Syrians? – is television.

            Among the losers in this list are “the Russian economy, business, the standard of living including the overwhelming majority of the so-called ‘elite,’ and civil society.” Among the beneficiaries,” in addition to television, are “the siloviki and the defense sector.

            “It is possible,” Yakovenko says, “that the most important part of the mental consequences of ‘Crimea is Ours’ are connected with the attitude of Russians toward work.”  The share saying working at full capacity received 19 percent of the answers in 2010, putting it in fifth place, but only nine percent eight years later landing it in 21st.  

            “The growth in the love of Russians for television has even eclipsed sex.” Fifteen percent of Russians listed sex as a favorite activity in 2010, but only 12 percent did so in 2018.  Consequently, “the expression ‘Russia is married to Putin’ is gradually losing the character of an ironic metaphor.”

            Yakovenko sums up: “Television, having become the chief joy … has sharply reduced joy from getting good money, completely destroyed the view of work at full strength as a satisfaction and reduced to a minimum the joy of sex.”  TV may have helped Putin build power, but it is now getting in the way of his demographic and economic goals. 

A Moscow Paper Asks a Most Inconvenient Question: ‘What is the Secret of Estonia’s Success?’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – The independent Moscow newspaper Novyye izvestiya points out that the average pay in Estonia is now “about 1800 euros” while in Russia, despite all its natural resources, it stands at “about 500 euros” – and points out that if Russia didn’t have those resources, its average pay would be “approximately 290 euros.”

            Acknowledging that this is “an enormous civilizational divide,” the paper says that it is surprising that despite this lag behind Estonia and other countries, the paper notes “Russia very much likes to criticize and denigrate more developed countries” (

            And Novyye izvestiya then asks a most inconvenient question: “What is the secret of Estonia’s success?”  Its answer is worth quoting in extenso:

“At the base of the Estonian economy lies the rational Scandinavian mentality of the people, a Protestant work ethic, and one of the lowest levels of corruption in the world … And although in the Baltic there is not even one tenth of one percent of the natural wealth which exists in Russia, these countries live and are developing better and more rapidly than Russia.

“All these years the countries of the Baltic are making up for lost time, and this is clear from their roads, their rates of pay, and their healthcare. The agricultural sector is developing, new production is coming online even though they have neither gas, not oil, nor diamonds, nor anything.”

“If the Baltic countries had not been occupied in 1940 by the Russians, their average pay would be today twice as high as it is. It is generally considered that the level of 2000 euros make a state flourishing.  Finland is at that level, a country which is today one of the richest in the world which defended itself from Soviet occupation by a war in 1939-1940.

“As a result of occupation and colonization, in 1991, 48 percent of the population of Latvia, 39 percent of the population of Estonia, and 15 percent of the population of Lithuania consisted of Russian colonists. Resistance to Russian occupation lasted in Lithuania until 1954, a resistance that was crushed only by two entire divisions of the USSR regular forces. As a result, about 40,000 people died.

“After the recover of independence in 1991, the small Baltic countries, burdened down by the colossal ballast of Russian colonists, were able successfully to integrate themselves into the European community. The Russian Federation [in contrast] is proceeding along its own ‘special path.’

“According to the corruption indices compiled by Transparency International, Russia is among the 50 most corrupt countries of the world. Nevertheless, Russian propaganda continues to denigrate the Balts, spreading false information about them [regarding corruption where they are among the least in the world as well as on other issues].

“Russians especially love to talk about the EU aide which the Baltic countries receive and which are used as intended rather than going into someone’s pocket as this would be customary in the countries of the CIS.

“It is also curious that many of the Russians living today in the Baltic countries up to now do not trouble themselves to learn the state language of their country and do not feel any gratitude to these countries.

“They only complain about the difficult life and poor state of the powers that be, not suspecting for a minute that the problem lies within themselves. With pleasure, they tell tales about how Europe being on the brink of collapse and how Russia and Belarus are flourishing – even though they aren’t attracted by Russia and prefer to ‘rot’ in the European Union.”   

Moscow Blocks What Could Be Remarkably Successful Regional Brands, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 27 – There is no such brand as “French wines,” “Czech beer,” or “Italian meat products,” Fyodor Krasheninnikov says. Instead, the brands in each case are based on regions within those countries.  But Moscow, given its centralist myopia, has never been willing to allow the emergence of internationally attractive regional brands.

            Nor is there likely to be a change in that unless there is a change in the political system, the Russian commentator says. This isn’t because it is impossible to prepared such products and it isn’t entirely because of the lack of funding. The problems are much more fundamental (

            “Anyone with even the slightest interest in brands” knows that there are wines from various regions of France, beers from various parts of the Czech Republic, and meats from various sections of Italy and that it is these regional variations that attract customers around the world, Krasheninnikov says. 

            Unfortunately, the powers that be in Moscow don’t understand this or why promoting such brands would be a good idea because they are trapped in the view that “in our united Russia … any attempts to distinguish oneself even in a purely symbolic fashion can end with criminal charges.”

             This is the first problem those who would like to promote regionally based brands in Russia face. The second arises from it: history and continuity.  Regional brands grow out of regional identities. People travel to Bourdeaux for wines, but it is hard to imagine them travelling to Bashkortostan for honey.

It might be possible for present-day Kaliningrad “to create a powerful brand as the chief beer-brewing region of Russia because in the heads of millions of Russians lives the mythology of ‘German beer.’”  But “’Visit the city named for M.I. Kalinin’ and ‘Visit ancient Koenigsberg’ are two very different invitations.”

            Moreover, Krasheninnikov continues, “between ‘the beer of East Prussia’ and ‘the beer of Kaliningrad oblast’ lies a gap in meaning which will not be filled by billions of rubles.”  Indeed, today, there is no Tilsit cheese being produced in Kaliningrad because there is no Tilsit; there is only Sovetskoye.

            This is just “a typical example of why in Russia it is impossible to revive even well-known product brands let alone speak about new ones.”

            But it is not just a question of names: Vologda might have been able to produce remarkable butter if it had been able to escape the destruction of collectivization but of course that wasn’t possible, Krasheninnikov says. After the homogenization that Soviet policy produced, it is hard to revive a sense of regional distinctiveness.

            And these two problems lead to a third, “the most important,” the commentator says. And that is this: “for a product to become an international brand, it must be really unique and high quality, it must have its own long history of quality and popularity” in the region where it is produced.

            “Before parmesan cheese, Parma ham, or port wine became patented as brands, they already were popular, in demand and actively supported… Regional specialities of Italy or France first achieved unqualified success in their own internal markets and then advanced to the global level.”

            Russia has brands but not the kind of local brands that have won success for other countries.  “Our enormous country,” Krasheninnikov says, “must learn to be diverse, must permit local markets to develop in various ways so that in various regions will appear really unique local brands.”  

            “Under conditions of total unification nothing will emerge,” he continues.  Soviet brands, produced in “thousands of faceless factories will never become any brands” of the kinds that have worked for others.