Saturday, May 14, 2005

Rich and Poor

When Western journalists want to stress how poor Russians are they write about old people who have to survive on $200. Does it mean that if the Russian Central Bank decides to stop supporting the ruble and the dollar fall to its “natural” rate of about 16 rubles (from 28 rubles today), all poor Russians will become twice richer? This trick also solves the great Putin’s challenge to double GDP not in 10 years but in one day. The CIA Factbook uses its own methodology to calculate purchasing power parity. This way one gets a much better impression on how rich or poor different countries are. Here’s a list of GDP per capita purchasing power parity of the former Soviet republics. In brackets I put other countries to compare with.
Estonia $14,300 (Uruguay $14,500)
Lithuania $12,500 (Argentina $12,400)
Latvia $11,500
Russia $9,800 (Mexico $9,600)
Kazakhstan $7,800
Ukraine $6,300 (Colombia $6,600)
Armenia $4,600
Azerbaijan $3,800
Georgia $3,100 (India $3,100)
Moldova $1,900 (Sudan $1,900)
Uzbekistan $1,800
Kyrgyzstan $1,700
Tajikistan $1,100 (Afghanistan $800)
Also in the list:
Luxembourg $58,900
United States $40,100
Germany $28,700
United Kingdom $29,600
World $8,800
China $5,600

Russian Allies

More and more often I hear, “Russia is loosing its allies among former Soviet now independent states”. Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova are gone. Only states with dictatorial regimes now stay with Russia but democratic countries want to be with America, EU and NATO. Really?
It was a surprise for Russians to discover that before multicolored revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine those countries were ‘pro-Russian’. Not even close to that. There is nothing new in Saakashvili’s rhetoric that wasn’t said by Shevarnadze before: Russian bases should be out quick, Russia should stop supporting Osetia and Abkhazia, Georgia wants to be in NATO and EU, American troops are welcomed. The main difference between him and Saakashvili is that Saakashvili is a hot head who loves to make pompous speeches before large crowds of people. Shavarnadze also tried a couple of times to take Osetia by military force but he didn’t make statements, “This is the war not with Osetia but with Russia” or “We will sink every ship with Russian tourists that will try to approach the coast of Abkhazia”. So the difference is simply in volume. Shavarnadze’s flattery towards the American president was also not so fulsome.
The same with Ukraine. If someone is interested in details of former Ukrainian president Kuchma “pro-Rusianness” should read his book “Ukraine Is Not Russia”. Yushchenko and Timoshenko seem to be more friendly towards Russia in comparison. Kuchma’s sudden and surprising “love” to Russia revealed itself only in 2004 when he realized that America and EU were playing against him.
The whole discussion on Russian allies sounds ludicrous. In its present poor state Russia simply cannot have allies in the geopolitical sense of this word. If one is given a choice between a Russian ruble and an American dollar one would choose rubles only when dollars are for some reasons unavailable. After the crush of the Soviet Union all it small former republics (with an exception of the Baltic republics, of course) plunged into such poverty that they instinctively clung to Russia. One today is worth two tomorrows. Fifteen years later most of them are doing much better. It’s quite natural for them today to think that two birds in the bush are better than one in the hand. Why is it so obligatory to be militant Russophobes in order to become allies to the US and NATO? That’s a different question.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Say you're sorry for the occupation

At a press conference devoted to the V-Day celebrations in Moscow a young Estionian journalist asked Putin, “Why is it so hard for you to say ‘Excuse us for the occupation of the Baltic republics’? Just a few words and after that relations between our countries will become friendly and warm.” Really, why not? Putin refused to do it. He has some sound reasons for that.
Accepting that the Baltic republics were occupied equals the recognition that Russian and Ukrainian speaking residents of these countries – ‘resident aliens’ to be exact – are colonists brought by the occupant. Thus according to the Geneva Convention they become something like illegal emigrants or like Jewish settlers at the West Bank meant to be deported back home – back to the USSR.
It also means that Russia is de facto a sole assignee of the Soviet Union. Thus it should solely be responsible for all sins of the Evil Empire. According to the Constitution of the USSR the country was a union of equal republics and the status of the Russian Federation within the Soviet Union was nothing different from Ukraine, Georgia or Latvia. Of course, it was unofficially accepted that Russia is special – the first among equals. The opening line of the Soviet anthem goes, “The unbreakable union of free republics was brought together by the great Russia”, but national anthem is not a legal document in international relations. All former Soviet republics (minus three Baltic republics, of course) should be held responsible for the occupation. The Soviet Army included soldiers and officers from Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, etc. Argument like, “Russia is responsible for the Baltic occupation because it represented the biggest chunk of the Soviet Union” is ludicrous. Russia started the Civil War in 1918 and forced all other republics into the Soviet Union? But then Siberia, the Urals, Krasnodar, Stavropol, the Russian Far East are also territories “occupied” by the Red Army. Thus, St. Petersburg – the cradle of the communist revolt – is responsible for all Soviet atrocities. Is it ok if the mayor of St. Petersburg apologizes for the occupation?
It's also worth mentioning that only in the 40s Stalin decided that there are such people as Russians or Georgians in the USSR. Before there was only one people – the Soviet people - and dividing it in ethnic group was a very dangerous thing to do. The words like, “I’m a Ukrainian” said in public were worth 10 years in Gulag.
But what if there will be no grave legal consequences for Russia after apologizing for the Soviet occupation? What if people in the Baltic republics need just moral satisfaction and nothing more? This way the act of apologizing becomes an act of good will. Good will assumes good relations but what we see and hear today from Latvian or Estonian politicians? Verbal abuses, threats, refusals to sign important agreements, pressure on the EU and American politicians to force Russia in apologizing. It looks like a schoolyard brawl to me – “Ok, I’m sorry. Just put your fingers off my throat” – “Now say – I’m a dirty russische Schwein”. – “Ok, ok. I’m a Schwein.” – “Good. Now get up from the ground and let’s be friends.” Is this the kind of moral satisfaction the Baltic republics need?