Interview: Anatoly Karlin – Sublime Oblivion

anatoly-karlinThose of you with long memories will remember the series of interviews I did with top Russia bloggers, back in early 2007. Well, after a very long hiatus, I’ve decided it’s time to resurrect the series again – and who better to start with than Anatoly Karlin of Sublime Oblivion.

Previously blogging at Da Russophile, Anatoly has made quite a mark for himself in quite a short space of time,. Over the past couple of years, he has published plenty of insightful and in-depth articles over the past year or so, quite a few of which have been re-published in Johnsons Russia List and, as you’ll see from the interview, is already working on a book (although sadly it won’t be about Russia).

So, without further ado, over to Anatoly.

Why did you start blogging about Russia?

First off, I would like to thank Andy for the interview and express my sincere admiration for his work in bringing together such a cluster of diverging and often highly-charged viewpoints together in a civil �interview� format over the years, as well as to offer my apologies for the six month delay in completing this interview.

Let’s start at the beginning.� As I’ve spent the majority of�my life as a Russian immigrant in the UK, I became acutely aware of how the sentiments of many Westerners towards Russia ranged from ignorance to disdain, with a large degree of overlap.�This is unsurprising and understandable, of course. The countries in the NATO alliance had spent the last fifty years living under the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. And the inhabitants of Western Christendom have had a primal aversion to the dark steppe to the east since times immemorial.�Scratch a Westerner, and you wound a Russophobe. 😉

This essentialist worldview is systematically reinforced by the Western media, whose distortion of Russia ranges from the blatant and despicable – e.g. referring to�Chechen terrorists as �freedom fighters� during the Beslan crisis; to the more subtly mendacious, in which it sees fit to assume the role of judge, juror and executioner regarding the Kremlin’s�exclusive guilt in reducing gas subsidies to Ukraine (�energy blackmail�), the�death of Litvinenko (�FSB assassinations�), and�the 2008 war in South Ossetia (�revanchist Russian imperialism against a beacon of democracy�). All this constitutes a real information war against Russia by Western media outlets working to the “propaganda model“. (So what if I cite Chomsky? All he does is point out the obvious).

As if the Western media on Russia being little more than�a brief for the prosecution wasn’t enough, I then happened upon�a certain blogger who gloried in calling �herself� a �Russophobe� and tried �her� best to attach a stigma on a word supposed to have much more positive connotations � �Russophile�, in the most underhanded and low-life ways imaginable. Even semantics are ammunition in the information war. And this was the ultimate trigger that inspired me to create the original�Da Russophile in January 2008. Translitered into Russian, it’s supposed to read, “?? � ????????!”, that is, �Yes � I’m a Russophile!� (and proud of it).

What spurred me to action was not the even the perceived duplicity of most Russia coverage, but the lack of an opposing interpretation. I believe the prosecution has made its case and as such I didn’t bother laying claim to objectivity; instead,�I explicitly admitted to my pro-Russia partisan bias (as Howard Zinn said, �you can’t be neutral on a moving train�, and those who pretend otherwise are hypocrites or na�ve). This is in stark contrast to most bloggers (journalists, humans, institutions, etc), who present themselves as – and even frequently believe themselves to be – paragons of objectivity. The former�Economist Russia journalist Gideon Lichfield�put it best: “The truth is like a quantum superposition state: it is not one version or the other, but a strange combination of all them”.

What are your goals for Sublime Oblivion?

First, the need for alternate Russia coverage is far less pressing now than it was a year ago. The Kremlin is realizing the value of soft power and has acquired some heavy artillery over the past two years, such as the�Russia Today TV channel and the�Russia: Other Points of View information portal. As such, I now rarely feel the need to comment on current Russian news – demolishing�the same Russophobe myths gets repetitive and boring after a while (much like�grenade fishing), – speaking of which, I think I now understand why similar “Russophile” bloggers like�Konstantin,�Fedia Kriukov, and�Kirill Pankratov jumped ship after a year or two.

Second, after a few months of blogging, I became more adventurous in my scope and ambitions. This moved me to make some major changes to the original�Da Russophile, the biggest of which were: the transition from�Blogger to�self-hosted WordPress, the abandonment of the pseudonym�stalker (yes, I love the film) in favor of my “true name“, and a certain moderation in rhetoric. I have largely abandoned activism in favor of observation and analysis. Most importantly,�I’ve expanded the blog beyond focusing exclusively on Russia, to a more of an about-me-and-my-interests kind of thing – which at the moment and for the foreseeable future happen to be Russia, geopolitics, and�future global trends.

As for my current plans:

What have been your best & worst experiences about blogging so far?

I’ll be indecently honest here. By far the best experience is the ego trip. I love fan mail and Googling my name to find snippets like�this or�this. Best of all is�getting recognized by the VIP’s. It feeds my narcissism and encourages me in my endeavours. 😉

I think that praise and criticism are really two sides of the same coin, so I’m 100% cool with the latter�� even of the sort�La Russophobe and “her” minions like to dish out. In fact, especially of that sort � they provide lots of lols, just read�the list of insults Russophobes have thrown against me! I sympathize with Andy on how�there are too many zealots polarizing the Russia �debate�, but I don’t think it annoys me quite as much as it does him. 😉 After all, it’s been a constant feature of the Russia debate throughout history. (That said, the attacks do tend to become boringly repetitive after a while, hence I tried to automatize their refutation by compiling a list of�Responses to common Russophobe �Arguments�, in addition to the classic�Top 50 Russophobe Myths and�Russophile Core Articles.)

As for the worst experiences, they are stunningly banal. Writer’s block – I spend at least as much time procrastinating on teh internets as actually writing, and�managing complexity – juggling between a big number of online projects, academia, and social life can be enervating. Not that terrible, but still vastly more aggravating than the sum wrath of the�LR collective. 😉

Which blogs about Russia and the FSU do you most enjoy reading?

There is a Zen temple in Japan, Ry?an-ji, which has a rock garden arranged in such a way that you can only ever see a maximum of fourteen rocks out of a total of fifteen from any horizontal vantage point. I think it is an excellent metaphor for truth; though it is always elusive when sought from a single perspective, it can be�probabilistically narrowed down to an ever smaller region by looking at things from different locations, different interpretations, etc. If you are serious about attaining enlightenment on any subject, it is best to become acquainted with all interpretations – in Russia’s case, be they “Russophile” (Peter Lavelle,�Nicolai Petro), Marxist (Sean Guillory), postmodern “virtual-political” (Andrew Wilson), cultural path-dependency theoretic (Streetwise Professor,�Stratfor, the Eurasianists, etc), and – yes – all-out “Russophobe”.

As such, I subscribe to most of the main Russia blogs on my Google Reader, though I certainly don’t read all or even the majority of the posts. Life is short. After all, some interpretations aren’t really about observing rocks, but crawling under one. 😉 That said, here’s a list of my favorite Russia blogs:

What first sparked your interest in Russia?

The central theme of my identity is my lack of one. I was sundered from my native Russian land at a young age and I assimilated most of my “cultural assets” during my period of exile in Britain. The reason I call it an “exile” is that I always felt as a a stranger in a strange land there; I was never accepted as British by its denizens, even though I spent the vast majority of my life there. My resulting mentality is aptly labeled “diasporic” by Konstantin Krylov; a state of profound�amorality, rationalism, and apathy for the host society’s values – for someone who sees all values as relative cannot have any other attitude.

However, the “diasporic mentality” is a profoundly unnatural – and hence unstable – state of affairs, since the human soul yearns for unity, belief, and�sobornost. This may explain the dawning of my sentimental interest towards Russia, which was only reinforced by my socio-cultural alienation and rising political awareness (e.g. of the nauseating moral hypocrisy inherent in Western cultural imperialism towards nations pursuing sovereignty like�Russia and�Venezuela).

I do not recall there being any “first spark” to my interest in Russia, the ideological evolution began in my mid-teens and is an ongoing process. We shouldn’t forget that dismissing and dissing Russia was fashionable in the 1990’s, when Yeltsin’s “family” were pillaging the nation and many Russians, especially �migr�s, felt “betrayed” by the Russian state (partially to justify�their own flight abroad and spiritual descent into self-interested, amoral�poshlost). There’s also a generational aspect here. Whereas the “fathers” tended to gleefully indulge in Russia-bashing – and embraced all aspects of Westernization with the fanaticism of the new convert -�the effect was sometimes quite different on Russia’s “sons”.�As Susan Richards points out, contrary to Western delusions, it the youngest Russians which constitute the most “anti-Western” cohort,�who according to Nicolai Petro “embraced patriotism as a defense mechanism against the blanket criticism of Russia�s past that left them with nothing of their own to believe in”.

Though I personally have no doubt been influenced by the above developments, I cannot really partake of this spiritual reawakening in Russia. Whenever I visited Russia, most of my relatives insisted on labeling me as English; and if I tried protesting it, many rejoined that I was talking nonsense, or had no idea of “how Russia really works”. The message is clear. I am rejected as Russian by the Russian�narod, which correctly perceives me as contaminated; a spiritual threat to the cohesiveness of the community. Like the typical second-generation European Muslim emigrant, divorced from both their indigenous culture and their host society, I have no “real” identity. I’m not just an�inostranets (foreigner), but a�bezstranets, a dude without a country, a�rootless cosmopolitan who ought to be hunted down and shot for treason by all humanity.

It is thus of no surprise that I’ve found a home, of a kind, in California – a state which Fukuyama identified as the most “post-historical part of the United States”, and more specifically, in the liberal oasis that is The Bay. It is here that I realized that I could reconcile my “Russophilia” with my social liberalism, environmentalism, Marxism, predilection for�postmodernist thinking, and dislike of Western chauvinism, by embracing�Third-Worldism. This perhaps finally resolves my internal contradictions in a way that is both logically consistent�and politically correct.

Anyway, the point I was making was that my interest in Russia is not whimsical or academic (that would be China), but lifelong and quasi-spiritual.

What do you most love / hate about Russia?

Drinking vodka with friends. Cheap flying, parachuting, and bootleg IP.�The unsettling but intoxicating blend of license and insecurity. The Russian village and peasant wisdom, now sadly in its death throes. The greater “reality” of life in Russia. The profound mysticism of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the primeval mysticism of Russia’s endless plains, dark forests and�Slavic skies.

Aggravating though it frequently is, the bureaucracy is tolerable. I’ve never been forced�to pay bribes, with the exception of traffic police requisitions. There seem to be many more daily quirks, inefficiencies, and stupidities of various kinds. But ultimately, are these not just affirmations of Russia’s greater scope of humanity, life, and spirit?

My greatest concern about Russia is its continuing lack of civilizational confidence and cultural submissiveness before the West (the “??????????? ????? ???????” that Soviet ideologists rightly warned against), which manifests itself – and I might add to a much greater degree that in Western countries – in the crass materialism and historyless ideologies of its current crop of elites.

If you could recommend one book about Russia, what would it be?

As Oswald Spengler said, Tolstoy is Russia’s past and Dostoevsky is its future, so “The Brothers Karamazov” would make as good a choice as any.

On balance, do you think Vladimir Putin�s Presidency has been good or bad for Russia?

Let’s approach this from the viewpoint of the Russian “silent majority”, instead of the�quack Kremlinologists and�limousine liberals who claim to speak for them. First, there can be no doubt that�the vast majority of socio-economic indicators improved markedly under Putin. This is not to deny that many Russians lead hard lives,�and that the prevalence of material poverty remains much higher than in the West (which contrary to some common Russian rose-tinged perceptions, is not itself a land of limitless milk and honey) � but exactly where did I claim otherwise?

With that caveat,�I daresay – to a greater extent than Russians living in Russia – that on average their living standards have improved greatly since 1998. Though they may go on about how inflation and bureaucracy makes their lives unbearable, it does not resound well when set against their ringing cell phones and new cars parked outside (consumerism exploded in the 2000�s). This is an excellent example of�creeping normalcy � some Russians fail to appreciate the strong secular trend towards improving average real living standards since 1998, focusing more on present day concerns like rising prices and poor government services. Nor is this improvement limited to Moscow and the rich, as some Russophobes like to assert. Statistics hint that the economic revival is broadbased across regions and social classes, and I can personally confirm that even small, depressed towns like Kolomna and Volokolamsk have seen vigorous economic expansion in recent years. This has been matched, from around 2006, by an accelerating�cultural and�demographic revival.

Second, the more sophisticated Russophobes counter that yes, there�have been real economic improvements, but only at the cost of shrinking democratic freedoms; in their view, a more liberal regime would have would have undoubtedly performed better. The problems with this viewpoint are manifold. First,�most Russians believe they live in a democracy and as pointed out in a BBC poll, some 64% of them believe Putin has had a positive impact on Russian democracy – and who are we to say otherwise? Second, they conflate “democracy” and “liberalism”, which are in fact two very different things. As Vlad Sobell points out, Russia remains “an evolving, post-totalitarian democracy, which unsurprisingly continues to suffer from the baggage of its difficult history” – heck, even Khodorkovsky admitted that Putin is “more liberal and more democratic than 70% of the population” – and�as argued by Nicolai Petro, the second phase of the “Putin Plan” for Russia’s modernization is liberalization, which follows on from the first phase – “consolidation” of the Russian state. In their view, Putin’s “soft authoritarianism” was necessary to curb the “roving banditry” of the 1990’s predatory-oligarchic state to allow the development of real liberalism. (The sad experiences of 1990’s Russia and post-Orange Revolution Ukraine illustrate the perils of “anarchic liberalization”). Third, they arrogantly assume that Western-style democracy is an unalloyed good thing, even an end-of-history eschatology, whereas�in reality, it is just an expression of hubristic Western egocentricity. In my opinion, nations like Russia and China are fully capable of developing their own, indigenous versions of democracy; if anything, Russia�needs a “sovereign democracy”, unbeholden to foreign influence, in order to organically evolve the institutions required for the long-term survival and incubation of liberal ideals within its borders.

Though at times he may be diverted from the task by national security exigencies and adjudication of disputes amongst the Kremlin clans, I believe this is precisely the long-term goal Putin is pursuing – consolidation, modernization, liberalization (in this order of priority).�The�recent moves by an alliance of Surkov’s “GRU” clan and the�civiliki (economic liberals) to investigate corruption and mismanagement of strategic companies under Sechin’s “FSB” clan – which has the implicit blessing of the Russian President, Medvedev – may be the opening shots in a coming purge of the most egregiously corrupt�siloviki. This will help the Kremlin in its efforts to modernize Russia, which may in turn lay the foundations for an eventual liberalization by the 2020’s.

On the modernization front, there have been some little-noted successes, e.g. a partial revival of manufacturing from its post-Soviet nadir, helped in part by�a new mercantilist industrial policy (contrary to popular belief, a calculated measure of state intervention has been central to all successful development stories). The state reigned in the most rapacious oligarchs and since the mid-2000’s expanded its support for the hi-tech sector (e.g. nanotechnology) and strategic industries. That said, a great deal of work remains to be done, such as reviving the hypertrophied military-industrial complex and developing a real “innovation economy” – these will be some of the big projects of the 2010’s.

I will refrain from making value judgments on whether Putin was “good” or “bad” for Russia, except to the extent of noting that his consistently sky-high approval ratings amongst Russians,�usually above 70% since 1999, indicate the former (though then again, some would ascribe this to a “traditional” Russian penchant for a paternalistic Tsar-savior). Instead, the argument may be advanced that a Putin was�inevitable.

The Russian Empire has always been subject to cyclical collapses due to�its inherent tendencies towards illiberal anarchy (the “Time of Troubles”, the Civil War, the 1990’s). These collapses were followed�by �”white riders” (the early Romanovs, Lenin, Putin) who checked the collapse, restored order with a firm hand, and�reconstituted “the Empire”. Bismarck remarked that “the art of statesmanship is to steer a course on the stream of time”; as an inheritor of the Tsarist and Soviet historical and cultural legacy, it is to be hoped that the Putin system eventually manages to fulfill the�Kremlin’s dreams of reconciling sovereignty with liberalism, instead of succumbing to anarchy like Boris Godunov or metamorphosing into a “dark rider” like the late Ivan Grozny or Stalin. We’ll see.

Do you think the average Russian�s life today is better, or worse than it was in 1989? Why?

On the one hand, the “average” Russian became unprecedentedly empowered as a consumer by the mid-2000’s, though this was accompanied by massive new inequalities (the 1970’s-80’s Soviet Union had no concept of consumer sovereignty and devoted all its additional, shrinking production growth to�the military-industrial sector). There were also a great many more social and political freedoms, despite the continued social prevalence of illiberal “post-totalitarian” attitudes, especially amongst the bureaucracy and security forces. Russians also opine that they became�happier.

However, the only people to immediately benefit from the Soviet collapse were the ambitious, unscrupulous, and well-connected; and even today, for a great many Russians – especially in the provinces and amongst the elderly – real living standards remain both substantially worse and buffered by a much weaker social safety net. The comparison becomes even worse when one also accounts for a host of social ills (crime rates, alcoholism, ethnic tensions, AIDS, etc) that germinated in the late USSR, but only exploded once society was opened up. Some 45% of Russians believe�people are now worse off than under Communism, whereas only 33% take the opposite stand (though it should be noted that this is slightly better than average for the former socialist bloc). I can personally�sympathize with this viewpoint. Furthermore, this pattern of nostalgia for an imagined past of a bright socialist future, to a greater or lesser extent, is common to all post-socialist nations (for instance,�57% of East Germans now defend the GDR).

Why? The fundamental reason is that though there undoubtedly appeared a general apathy in late Soviet society, it still retained a deep sense of social solidarity, or sobornost – a catch-all term for a deep sense of internal peace and unity between races, religions, sexes, etc, within a society, or in the words of the Russian philosopher Nikolai Lossky, “the combination of freedom and unity of many persons on the basis of their common love for the same absolute values”. However, by the late 1980’s the costs of keeping the Soviet system were perceived to exceed the benefits; the burden of complexity became too great to bear. The Soviet state, bereft of its most powerful tools (economic coercion) yet still burdened by immense obligations (welfare and warfare), unraveled under the strain. By the early 1990�s, the “Empire” crumbled and Russia reverted to anarchic stasis in an economic hyper-depression – a neo-feudal oligopoly extracting rents from a demoralized population wracked by social insecurity and demographic crisis, under the guise of virtual politics. Russia’s place on the Belief Matrix shifted towards poshlost – another untranslatable Russian word which denotes cultures that have lost belief in themselves and their own future in favor of vulgarity, commercialism, and pessimism. Most Russians viewed this development as an unmitigated disaster (hence Putin’s infamous comment that the Soviet collapse was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”), and yearned for a “white rider” who would restore order and return them to the future. They got Putin.

It should come as no surprise, then, that Russia’s resurgence – especially visible after 2006 – has been marked by what I perceive as an accelerating drift back towards a Eurasian Empire (not only or even mainly in the territorial sense); a more informal, smarter, and reinvigorated USSR-2. As I outlined in “VII. Return to the Future” in�Russia’s Sisyphean Loop, the evidence for this includes: a) the continued consolidation of state power, including Surkov’s ideological invention of “sovereign democracy” (in 2006), and its increasing�overspill into�active management of Russia’s economic development in what is the latest round of Russia’s “defensive modernizations”, b) a marked improvement in social morale, as attested to by�opinion polls and a�demographic stabilization that is�likely to be sustained in the long-term, and c) the continued deterioration of social attitudes towards the West (especially the US), coupled with increasingly active – and successful – Kremlin efforts to restore its hegemony over the post-Soviet space.

The poor, chaotic, and colorful interlude of poshlost is at an end, most poignantly symbolized by the demise of the�eXile in 2008 (I’m sure they’d agree; one of their last issues bewailed the demise of the�gopniki, Russia’s equivalent of “white trash”, and a good metaphor for poshlost). A new Eurasian Empire is coalescing in its place, which has started to and will probably return�sobornost to Russian life within the decade. And that will mean far more to the average Russian than any amount of Chinese trinkets or London mansions.

Do you think Russia will ever embrace the style of democracy now favoured in most of the rest of Europe, or will it take a different path?

Probably not. For that matter, perhaps�not even many European democracies will survive in the next few decades, or more specifically their liberal characteristics. They have a host of problems such as rapid aging, overly generous welfare states, below-replacement level fertility rates,�simmering ethnic tensions, national rivalries and varying interests undermining the EU project, and severe structural economic and / or fiscal solvency problems. These will soon by joined by resource shortages and the effects of climate change.

As for Russia itself, I’ve identified several likely directions it could go in “VIII. Return to the Future: Forking Paths” in�Russia’s Sisyphean Loop – “sovereign democratization”, “return to the natural state”, “liberalization”, and “totalitarian reversion”.

In “sovereign democratization”, Russia continues implementing Nicolai Petro’s vision of the “Putin Plan“, modernizing and liberalizing Russian society in a new “revolution from above”, or as Vlad Sobell puts it, “this new ‘USSR’ has shed its totalitarian and imperial character and is building genuine democracy � la russe”. Look to Gaullist France, with its emphasis on populism, sovereignty, and dirigisme, as an example. The Sechin�silovik clan of ‘former’ FSB officers will be purged or sidelined and by the Year 2020 (a date which has assumed a somewhat millenarian status in Kremlin rhetoric on development), Russia will be a prosperous, innovative, liberal, and patriotic nation. I think this is an optimistic, though still realistic, vision; however, it is contingent on�the survival of globalization and the continuation of Russia’s economic and demographic resurgence, both of which are far from assured.

Another strong possibility is a “return to the natural state”, i.e. the reinforcement of Russia�s current paternalistic and neo-feudal features, and continuing economic nationalism,�silovik cronyism, and resource dependency. A powerful Tsar will dole out transitional rent-gathering rights unto his boyars, in return for their political loyalty and tax payments.�This �Muscovite model�, or neo-Tsarism, is socially unjust, Pareto inefficient, and ineffective at either generating economic prosperity or sustaining resource mobilization. Russia will restore its Empire and military might, but as Steven Rosefielde noted, it will be�a giant with feet of clay – weakened by economic frailty, undermined by separatist and dissident-revolutionary movements, and contained by the Atlantic powers, it will lapse into a�zastoi reminiscent of the Brezhnev era. This ‘middle variant’ tends to be favored by analysts who perceive that Russia is run by a gang of kleptocratic neo-Soviet revanchists and believe the country is doomed to secular decline on account of what they perceive are its disastrous demography and moribund economic system.

“Liberalization” (in the anarchic 1990’s or today’s Ukrainian sense) or “totalitarian reversion” are very unlikely�today.�The Russian liberals, or “liberasts” as they are sometimes unflatteringly called, are now�irrelevant,�discredited relics of an older and not-too-soon-forgotten time (of troubles). Nor do Putin and his associates have a death wish to become all-out “dark riders” in a neo-Stalinist mold. Though there is now substantial support for disparate extremist movements (neo-Eurasianism, Strasserism, White Nationalism, etc), they remain confined to the political fringe as in the rest of Europe – though we shouldn’t forget that all it takes for this to change is a weakened state, social disillusionment, and a well-organized, ambitious Party with a skilful demagogue. That said, it is not impossible to imagine a scenario in which a Muscovite “natural state” collapses under its own failings by the 2020’s, unleashing a destructive wave of “liberalization” that returns Russia to�poshlost, ushers in renewed social disillusionment, and engenders a violent reaction against liberal ideals that culminates in a totalitarian despotism, and one probably far more �racialist� than its predecessors – not to mention armed with thousands of nukes.

Which of these paths Russia will go down is still impossible to predict with full certainty, though there are certainly signs, Aesopian language, etc, that the Kremlinologist should observe for hints of Russia’s future trajectory. In particular, the outcome of the brewing GRU / civiliki vs. FSB clan war will be a major portent of things to come.

If you could advise the Russian government to do one thing it isn’t already doing, what would it be?

No more mindless idolization of the West (??????????? ????? ???????). Instead, develop civilizational confidence by rejecting “Europe” and�recognizing Russia’s status as a unique Eurasian civilization, not inferior (or superior) to any other. This does not imply an irrational rejection of useful Western technological and even cultural imports, as urged by some extreme Slavophiles. That said, this does not mean Russia should worship everything Western, because many Western imports clash too much with indigenous Russian traditions to be of any real benefit. Furthermore, the speed, zeal, and “totality” with which Western imports were forced on Russia by its rulers tended to exceed anything seen in the West itself due to Russia’s habit of attempting to “leapfrog” the gap separating it from the West, as happened during the Bolshevik Revolution (from feudalism / early capitalism to socialism) or the 1990�s (from socialism to market fundamentalism) � i.e., to whatever utopian end-of-history the West appeared to be moving towards at the time. Needless to say, the short-term effects were tragic and the long-term effects were enervating, resulting in long periods of retreat and stagnation. It’s time to break this cycle.

If Russia’s elites were to fully embrace this wiser mentality, a number of consequences would follow. They would pay less attention to what foreigners think of their actions, and will thus possess greater freedom to act in Russia’s real national interests. For instance:

  • More state control over natural resources extraction, mainly to limit activity so as to leave more reserves in the ground in a world of limits to growth.
  • Free trade is only good as long as it really is free, which it isn’t. Russia should be bolder about incubating promising infant industries, encouraging domestic savings, and pursuing strategic trade.
  • In particular, Russia must give the formation of a proper domestic financial system top priority in order to gain independence from Western credit flows – their sudden disruption in 2008 was the major cause of Russia’s economic crisis.
  • Russia has no need for billionaire oligarchs, especially since they are almost all de facto employed by the state; a few millions should be enough of an incentive.
  • Don’t be afraid to reintroduce the death penalty for corruption and sabotage – it works in China, it worked in the Soviet Union, and there is no reason it shouldn’t work in Russia again. The Council of Europe can fume all it wants.

That said, there’s no need to be impolite and in-your-face about all this. Again, follow China’s rhetoric on “peaceful rise” (even as it builds up the world’s largest industrial economy, acquires neo-colonial spheres of influence, steals the most advanced Western technologies, and pursues military modernization). Most importantly, remember that socio-economic modernization is most successful when generated indigenously, not forced upon from outside via Westernization,�which is undesirable because of the internal social conflicts in provokes in non-Western societies. Don’t become blindfolded by Western ideological imports like Marxism or neoliberalism. Instead, work patiently and eruditely to explain to the domestic “liberast” intelligentsia -�many of whom are actually patriotic, if misguided – why their prostration before the West is unproductive to Russia’s interests (or just ignore them). Breaking up their small rallies with the OMON just reveals insecurity and is counterproductive.

Finally, there is strength in numbers; as the greatest champion of “The Rest” against “The West” since the Revolution (or even gunpowder Muscovy), Russia should resume pushing for Third World solidarity and participating in its manifestations like the BRIC’s and G20. The words of Russian philosopher Nikolai Trubetzkoy are as relevant today as when he first wrote them in 1920:

Without the support of Europeanized peoples, the Romano-Germans will not be able to continue the spiritual enslavement of the whole world. Quite simply, upon realizing its mistake, the intelligentsia of Europeanized nations will not only stop helping the Romano-Germans, but it will try to thwart them, at the same time opening the eyes of other peoples to the true nature of the “benefits of civilization”.

In this great and difficult work to liberate the world from spiritual slavery and from the hypnosis of the �benefits of civilization�, the intelligentsia of all the non-Romano-Germanic nations that have set out on the path to Europeanization or are planning to do so must act together in the spirit of full cooperation and agreement. They must never lose sight of the true problem and not be distracted by nationalism or by partial, local solutions such as Pan-Slavism and other �pan-isms�. One must always remember that setting up an opposition between the Slavs and the Teutons or the Turanians and the Aryans will not solve the problem. There is only one true opposition: the Romano-Germans and all the other peoples of the world ��Europe and Mankind.

Russia has developed a much more assertive and confrontational approach to foreign policy over the past couple of years, particularly in its Near Abroad. From Russia’s perspective, what do you think are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?

As I pointed out above,�Russia is returning to the Empire. The state is expanding its power on multiple dimensions – political, economic, geopolitical. It is almost inevitable that it will eventually expand territorially as well (as foreshadowed by 500 years of history); to an extent this is already happening, as South Ossetia and Abkhazia have become virtual Russian protectorates after it repelled�Georgia’s invasion in August 2008. This is an accelerating process and I agree with Stratfor that in one form or another (ranging from closer integration into already-existing institutions like�EurAsECand the�CSTO, to a full-fledged neo-Soviet Union), a new empire will appear on the map of northern Eurasia by 2020 at the latest.

From Russia’s perspective,�the effects will be almost entirely positive (at least until it reaches the point of�”imperial overstretch”, when the benefits are canceled out by Western containment and perhaps�Polish– and�Turkish-instigated separatism; but this is still far off). Rebuilding the Empire will 1) further legitimize the state, 2) increase�sobornost, 3) expand the military-industrial power at Moscow’s disposal, and 4) provide a much larger “scope” for autonomous economic development. All these factors reinforce the Empire’s power and “sovereignty”.

Nor is this going to be a particularly difficult undertaking. Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Armenia are already firmly within Russia’s orbit. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are dependent on Russia for their security, and Uzbekistan realigned itself with Russia in 2006. The prize jewel is Ukraine – as Brzezinski pointed out, Russia has never been a proper Empire without it. However, Ukraine is now a weak, “failing state”, close to fiscal insolvency; the Orange movement is fully discredited (President Yushenko’s approval ratings hover in the low single digits and�overall support for democracy fell from 72% in 1989 to just 30% in 2009); both the next two prospective Presidents, Timoshenko and Yanukovych, are campaigning on pro-Russian platforms; and there is more�popular support for Eurasian integration than for entry into NATO or even the EU. Facing a resurgent Russia and�an America increasingly absorbed with other problems, there is a moderate-to-high likelihood that Ukraine will either return to Russia’s orbit or split down the Dnieper River within the next five years.

The deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West, especially the US and its allies, went in tandem with Putin’s consolidation of the Kremlin’s power and Russia’s post-2006 “return to the Empire”. Considering the number of humiliations and broken promises Russia previously received from the West – NATO expansion, the bombing of Serbia, color revolutions, the media war, missile defense, etc – it is not at all surprising that Russia began to push back once it regained a position of strength by the mid-2000’s. Now that it has begun, I doubt it will stop. The late Soviet and Yeltsin-era na�vet� about kind Western intentions towards Russia is gone, thanks largely to the West’s own exploitation of Russian weakness. Now�Russia has reverted to thinking in 19th century terms, and back then its Army and Navy were its only friends.

You describe yourself as “not just an inostranets (foreigner), but a bezstranets, a dude without a country, a rootless cosmopolitan.” There’s been a bit of a trend recently of people with Russian roots (for want of a better term) returning to Russia, often to do business. Do you think Russia benefits from this influx of bezstrani?

Yes.�Technological transfer, new management skills, etc. But its overall economic impact is minimal. Unfortunately, of the middle-aged researchers who left Russia in the 1990’s, only a few are going to go back even in a best case scenario. I applaud Medvedev’s recent initiatives to lure back Russian emigrants, but it is too little, too late.

Furthermore, I should also note that far from all emigrants have a favorable impression of Russia, even despite the spiritual revival mentioned above. Many are stuck with the clich�s of the 1990’s with which they left Russia; on top, there are the clich�s of the famously “objective” Western media. Gangster capitalism plus FSB authoritarianism drenched in vodka. This is not to imply that this caricature doesn’t contain a kernel of truth, but as Sean Guillory points out, going back to Russia for a while will give a much needed wider perspective. That said, many diaspora Russians are psychologically averse to equanimity on Russia; in many cases, they are huge fans of whatever country they immigrated to, and of the West in general, as if to justify their own immigration to themselves. Consequently, some even view any “defense” of Russia, no matter how justified, as a personal attack on themselves and�respond ferociously. For obvious reasons, I do not see many of these people going back.

The only way to get a big stream of high-quality talent to come is to modernize and implement a good immigration system with minimal bureaucratic hassle (Canada is a good model, I think). Russia is currently lagging behind on all three factors.�Perhaps that will change by the 2020’s, but by then it will have to be tailored to second-generation immigrants who will have minimal social investments in Russia (friends, relatives, lives, etc). I suspect it is a leap very few will be willing to take,�no matter how many incentives the state gives.

I see you’re writing a book. I know you don’t want to give away too much at this stage, but could you give us a brief preview?

For more info see�Sublime Oblivion – The Book. I hope to have it finished by spring 2010 and published soon thereafter.

It is essentially a work on�future history – a vision of the effects today’s global trends are going to have on different regions and the world system in the decades to come. One of the wellsprings of my analysis is that we live in a time of change far more rapid than anything seen in history, and that anything at all is possible.

Let me demonstrate. Today, there are two particularly influential “schools” on the future. Both germinated in the 1970’s and are regarded as diametrically opposite each other. On the one hand, you have the�technological singularitarians, who point out that computing power per dollar has been doubling every two years since the 1960’s and will “inevitably” continue to do so. This miniaturization will eventually allow us to scan the brain with enough precision to record all its details and replicate it electronically. Or perhaps a consciousness will emerge out of Web. The resulting “strong AI”, easily able to quickly replicate and recursively improve itself, will make biological humanity obsolete. Ray Kurzweil, one of the high priests of this school, places the Singularity at 2045.

On the other hand, the “Limits to Growth” schools asserts that our world is finite, and posits that industrial civilization will soon run up against�limits to growth in the form of resource depletion and pollution overload. We will need to make ever greater efforts to achieve the same “benefits” in resource extraction and agricultural production, as the system comes under the strain of flattening agricultural yields, topsoil loss, peak oil, higher-EROEI energy sources,�runaway climate change,�global dimming, political and geopolitical flux, etc. Barring a rapid transition back towards sustainability or the discovery of a technological silver bullet, humanity will massively overshoot the carrying capacity of the Earth, destroy the physical basis of its own existence, and usher in an unprecedented Malthusian dieoff in famine, plagues, and wars. The “standard”, business-as-usual�Limits to Growth model places the date of collapse at around 2030-50 (furthermore,�the current statistical evidence indicates that the world system closely tracked the original 1972 predictions to today).

So which trend will win out? Will we “transcend” just as industrial civilization begins to finally collapse? Or will the world’s last research lab be�burned down by starving rioters just as the world’s first, and last, strong AI pops into super-consciousness inside? I think this is the big question of this century and it forms the defining theme of the book.

That is not all, of course. Other trends I will highlight encompass geopolitics, economics, demography, politics, culture, and wars, as well as the intersections between them and their impact on the world’s disparate regions, nations, and cultures. Russia-watchers will not be disappointed; as a potential superpower that stands to benefit from resource depletion and global warming (relatively speaking), Russia will play a major role.

This is a�cyberpunk future – a world system wracked by neo-colonial resource wars and under severe ecological strain, tipping over into outright failure throughout the Third World; yet also a world ever more tightly intertwined into an information ether, where fantasy displaces reality. By the 2030’s, as mounting stresses approach critical levels, some of the Great Power-“fortresses” decide to cooperate in a last-ditch effort to save the System from collapse – they start on the construction of a massive, space-based power generation and geoengineering project. Simultaneously, there emerges a global super-conscience, a strong AI� �the last invention that man need ever make�, from within the cathedrals of cyberspace. Salvation beckons. Yet who can presume to know the mind of God?

RAFO 😉

You may also like...

52 Responses

  1. Blair says:

    Excellent interview, as much for Andy’s questions as for Anatoly’s answers. Good stuff!

  2. Moscow Tory says:

    Well done on a great interview, Andy. I’ll declare my bias and say that I consider Anatoly to be one of the best English language bloggers on Russia. He is one of the few commentators able to put events there into a global context with his work on future history trends, and I’m looking forward to reading his book. From my dealings with him he seems like an all round good guy too.

  3. Vadim P. says:

    Great interview, thanks.

  4. James says:

    Interesting reading … though to be honest, over at http://www.robertamsterdam.com we are crushed by Anatoly’s devastating lack of bromance for us. C’mon man!

  5. anonymous says:

    What do his ramblings remind of? Hm….Could it be Hitler’s? Oh, yeah, that’s it.

  6. Gregor says:

    Excellent interview from ‘our 20 year old child prodigy’!

    Oddly enough, I’ve pretty much stopped visiting ‘Unspeak’ after Steven Poole implied I was a racist/ sexist because I pointed out that two western neoliberals were very similar. Steven didn’t seem to get the point, which is similarly to Anatoly’s, that a lot of people in Western politics are ‘chauvinistic’ in a liberal sense in that they cannot see any alternatives to Anglo-Saxon capitalist liberalism, which seems to be collapsing at the moment.

    Don’t know if the previous comment was by a real Russophile or a parody, but that seems to pretty much demonstrate why Anatoly is right not to focus as much on Russophobia now: it is turning into a parody of itself. For all the faults of the United Russia party, the Russophobe prophecies concerning political, geographical, demographic and humanitarian trends have all been proven drastically wrong.

    • 1) I’m 21.
      2) My main reason for loss of interest in Russophobes is not so much that they are a gaggle of jokers (they always were), but that grenade fishing gets boring after a while – i.e.., debunking particular articles like this, especially since the debunking typically takes around 5x as long to write as the original article (and will be read by 500x fewer people).

    • steven says:

      Steven Poole implied I was a racist/ sexist

      I did nothing of the sort.

  7. Bing says:

    Ass kissing towards an imperfect clique to do the bulk of the opposition to the “Russophobes” doesn’t reflect progress. This includes promoting some “Russophobes” over authoritative opponents to them.

    In essence, the same old, same old is being advocated.

  8. poemless says:

    I love people who write such voluminous posts that I am forced to print them out and read them in bed. So subversive…

    Question: Were you on drugs when you wrote all this? It’s not a criticism. I once wrote a paper on Gogol & the professor asked if I was high when I wrote it but gave me extremely high marks. (I wasn’t.)

    Not sure how I feel about being compared to a fluffy (I’m writing about intellectuals!) pink (red, actually) grenade (I’m a pacifist) … But thanks for the shout-out!

    • You’re not alone in wondering about how I stimulate my mind. Regarding the ending of this article, Streetwise Professor remarked, “your stuff sounds like it was written on acid”. Thanks for the compliments. But in reality, I’m quite capable of “fullbore psychopathy” (cue our good friend LR) without any help from psychedelic influences.

      Fluffy pink grenade. The metaphor is borrowed from Marina Lewycka, though not, of course, in the spirit in which she used it. 😉 A reference to your sudden appearance on the scene, even as older ones (RB, RA, even SL) seem to be waning. But not an aggressive kind of grenade, hence fluffy. Assuming that I haven’t recently become color-blind, I maintain that your blog theme’s is not red… OK, it might not quite be pink either, but perhaps “rose”.

  9. Tristan da Cunha says:

    “Ass kissing towards an imperfect clique to do the bulk of the opposition to the “Russophobes” doesn’t reflect progress.”

    What on earth is that supposed to mean?

    • It means some writers prefer to whine and conspiracy theorize about how an alleged Russophile cabal assumes to itself “the bulk of the opposition” to Russophobia while denying a platform to outsiders, instead of doing more productive things with their time like starting a blog or improving the quality of their writing through practice.

      I’m certainly not denying there exist favoritism and barriers to entry – I’d know, but all the established “Russophile” commentariat (and journalists in general) had to pass through them at one point or another. But some are simply too lazy, disorganized, time-constrained, or apathetic to do that.

      • Bing says:

        Favoritism like sucking up in a way that includes changing a positive characterization to a more neutral one, while dishing out other positive characterizations in a sucking up way.

        Having a blog isn’t the end all to success.

        Distorting the reality by parroting the inaccurate claims of cranks isn’t sincere.

        • 1. If you believe I am tailoring my writing to “suck up” to influential people then you are highly deluded.
          2. Though blogging is not the be all and end all, it sure beats email spamming.
          3. Everyone has their own definition of reality.
          And that is all I will say on this matter.

          • Bing says:

            If anything, the delusions are coming from you.

            Besides the below, there are other examples of overt mainstreaming, while simultaneously adjusting a previously stated presentation.

            From: “Yet according to the brilliant …”

            To: “According to ….”

            In another instance that involves a propped individual: “the influential East-Central Europe expert…”

            ______________________

            The idea that the situation is purely merit based is a crock. The “realism” of sucking up to an imperfect situation isn’t the best option for improving things. Changing course away from a more positive approach to the suck up route is a corrupting element that has been encouraged.

            Fortunately, there are some decent folks out there who see this situation for what it is.

            Your “email spamming” characterization is yet another revision.

      • Tristan da Cunha says:

        ” instead of doing more productive things with their time like starting a blog or improving the quality of their writing through practice”

        Or actually learning the language of the country they purport to specialize in?

        • Bing says:

          Beats supposedly knowing the language and being there, while not knowing much about that country in question.

          • Tristan da Cunha says:

            However, not knowing the language of that country in question practically guarantees that you won’t know much about it.

          • Bing says:

            In reply to the below 12/10 message at 11:45 AM, which has been raised before and authoritatively debunked.

            Translation, acquired knowledge (of the subject matters), good contacts (to interact with) and a good intuition (on the involved topics) are factors which successfully refute the below claim.

            There’re a number of propped individuals who aren’t proficient in the language in question. Some of them are pretty good in analyzing things, while others aren’t. The same is true of folks proficient in the given language.

            Simply put, being a language whiz (purported or otherwise) doesn’t necessarily make one adept at assessing cultural, historical and political aspects of the country in question.

            It can also help being of the given ethnic group in question, inclusive of a life long experience with people who’re quite knowledgeable of the covered subjects.

            There’s a reasonable way to judge these points, minus the sleazy trolling that has been evident.

          • Bing says:

            Re: Last Message

            Sorry, the format appeared different before posting. The beginning should read as “above” instead of “below.”

          • This is nonsensical on so many levels I don’t know where to start (nor would there be much point in doing so).

          • Chris says:

            “It can also help being of the given ethnic group in question”

            You’re not a member of the ethnic group in question.

          • Bing says:

            Re: Some Recent Comments

            The “nonsensical” claim is ducking what has been said. Note how a not so distant set of comments were interpreted and answered. The mentioned distant comments were written in a more samizdat (if you may) manner, thereby not making them as clear. Thus, the “nonsensical” claim is ducking a valid point that included some examples.

            Then there’s the troll route from someone else, who states a lie.

            This kind of manner is indicative of why the coverage is lacking – an imperfect status quo, which encourages a sucking up to advance.

            It’s good to know that others don’t approve of such manner. I gladly encourage that approach.

  10. I don’t know about anybody else, but what I find particularly impressive about Mr. Karlin is his repeated use of smiley faces. It really shows what a serious, thoughtful person he is, mature and offering valuable insights into the Russian condition.

    Beyond that, certainly the length of his discourse is impressive. Frankly, it’s simply inexpicable why only the crazed wackos at Russia Blog publish him. He’s obviousy one of the great minds of his generation, and the number of words he writes is irrefutable proof of that. Next stop, NYT op-ed page!

  11. Bing says:

    He’s quite impressive for his age.

    Given his youth, his shortcomings can be more excused unlike some others.

    The NYT isn’t the end all for measuring intellect and knowledge on a subject.

  12. christ the savior says:

    Good interview

    Is La Russophobe Jewish?

    This is a serious question as he/she is based in French which Berezovsky and the western affiliated Oligarchs finance and fund “research” and websites in France attacking Putin and Russia.

    “The Forbes article (December 1996), entitled “The Godfather of the Kremlin,” was printed with no byline for fear of violent retribution to its authors. “Berezovsky,” noted the magazine’s editor, James Michaels, “stands tall as one of the most powerful men in Russia. Behind him lies a trail of corpses, uncollected debts and competitors terrified for their lives.”

    It explains there tribal loyalty to the group dynamic representing group interest as why La Russophobe does not criticize the Jewish mafia Oligarchy that controlled Russia during the 90’s and financed and installed Yeltsin for a second term and those directing policy towards Russia that imposed IMF/Soros Shatilin and Harvard “shock therapy” plan were western investment went straight into western banking firms in Russia in a private rigged auction lead by Khoderkovsky (Lord Rothschild frontman in Russia) set up state assets at fire-sale prices were senior political and financial figure like Mr Rothschild and Kissinger became senior shareholders in the newly created company Yuko’s, in fact Jacob Rothschild had majority shares in Yukos and with Khoderkovskys arrest in Russia transferred his share ownership to Lord Rothschild in London.
    Essentially turned Russia into an IMF colony just like they did to Ukraine.

    All of which of course where Jews

    As Professor Jan Ciechanowicz University of Vilnius in Lithuania mentioned:

    “The selling of people to whore houses in the civilized European Union and America and other places is multi-dimensional. None of this matters to the oligarchic mafia. For them only money counts. It’s most important to know that young, clean, healthy, Russian females can be found in whore houses around the world.

    The transporting of these female slaves was supposed to be stopped. Before 2001, when Putin was at last able to put his hands on some of these criminals, such as Berezowsky, Gusinsky, Chodorkowsky [Khodorkovsky], Abramowitz, Friedman, Wolsky, Weksclberg, Dieripaska, etc. –all of them citizens of Israel– they felt pretty sure of themselves. This was because of the globalization of media. Also, they have an international mechanism – a thieving apparatus – that serves them.
    Moreover, people of their own background in government administrations have protected them. Some of these protectors include Kirijenko, Niemcow, Potanin Szachrag, Czubajs, Czernomyrden, Grader and Lisin, among many others. They also include a complete army of journalists, lawyers, professional killers, political democrats, defenders of the rights of man and others who went after anti-Semites. This was done to defend legal justice.”

    http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/chapski5.htm

    Good website with main stream references the new Russian capitalist after the fall of the USSR.

    http://www.jewishtribalreview.org/capitalists.htm

    Or why he/she does not criticize Soros/CIA puppet states in Georgia and Ukraine or NATO/US policy like supporting Islamic terrorism in the Balkans, Russia and Eurasia since 1989 and running the largest Islamic terrorist training camp in the world imported by the US and Turkey in 2003 in the Panski Gorge, Georgia after the US operation in Afghanistan destroyed there bases with Russian provided intelligence and FSB created Northern Alliance created to fight CIA created Taliban.

    Of course she could be just a westerner who have a typical loathing for Russia (being British myself I know) like there support and backing for Communism and the overthrow of the Czar to organised crime and Islamic terrorism.

  13. Much as it pains me to admit it, I must say I owe a certain debt of gratitude to LR. If it hadn’t so infuriated me so with one of its venom-dripping posts one fine day in January 2008, there’d have been no Da Russophile; probably, no blog at all (highly ironic that the Russophobe par excellence would inspire at least one “Russophile” to go public in a big way). And most likely I’d now be looking forwards to an office slave career instead of seriously considering freelance writing, consulting, and / or web designing for a living.

  14. Chris says:

    Anatoli, you’re being attacked by somebody who thinks there was a group called “the Beetles.” Keep that in mind.

  15. Bing says:

    An off topic remark from a troll, who has a knack for carrying on in such a manner.

    • Chris says:

      I’m wondering how illiterate you have to be to not know the spelling of “Beatles.” I think the answer is “really, really illiterate.”

      My favorite British band is the Klesh, especially their classic Lundun Calling, but at least I can spell “Beatles.”

  16. Bing says:

    So can I.

    Trolls like yourself very selectively jump on certain mishaps, while overlooking others. The latter aspect includes your own faulty claims on certain grammar matters.

  17. Chris says:

    I thought it was a typo originally, but then “Beetles” kept coming through. It’s “Beatles,” with an “A”.

    • Bing says:

      Another example of what you overlook. A case in point is how you repeatedly and incorrectly said that “there’re” isn’t proper short hand for “there are.”

      So much for your suggested expertise.

  18. Tim Newman says:

    I agree that if it is to be in Russia’s interests to leave its oil and gas in the ground, then they should hand over all development activities to the state. That will ensure the stuff remains in the ground even if future governments change their minds!

    • Glad to see even an oilman agrees with me. More pertinent to my actual reasons are:
      1) Russia has better uses for the huge capital outlays involved in the newest developments, which are ever more affected by diminishing marginal returns due to geological reasons. Obvious examples would be expanding nuclear and renewable power, increasing state support for R&D, and reviving the MIC.
      2) As a bonus it will help mitigate the resource dependency which deforms its economy and political system.
      3) It will also contribute a little to weaning the world off oil, which has to be done as quickly as possible to prevent runaway global warming.

  19. Tim Newman says:

    Actually, I think not developing Russia’s oil and gas reserves is more than a little foolish. But if it was deemed in Russia’s interests to not develop them, giving the monopoly development rights to incompetent state companies would have the desired effect, which is effectively what has happened over the past 3-4 years.

    • I think your thinking is short-termist and does not correlate to Russia’s national interests, but to the interests of international capital.

      That said, I don’t favor the present structure either. The “public-private” nature of most of today’s Russian oil players encourages corruption and even over-production (and associated well damage), and certainly does not constitute a far-sighted plan to conserve resources.

      If I came to power, I would either enhance property rights while increasing the tax rate on oil exports from already developed deposits, or return to Soviet-style physical management with stringent controls on corruption and revised performance criteria that does not involve raising production.

  20. Tim Newman says:

    I think your thinking is short-termist and does not correlate to Russia’s national interests, but to the interests of international capital.

    Firstly, international capital does not have interests. The holders of international capital do, but they are hardly the drivers of oil and gas projects. Oil and gas projects generally go looking for capital, not the other way around.

    Secondly, if Russia does not develop new oilfields then its industry will stagnate further to the point that they will not be able to maintain adequate production levels. Unless and until Russia finds an alternative revenue stream to its sale of oil and gas, any severe drop in production will cause them enormous financial problems. I agree that Russia needs to wean itself off oil and gas in terms of its percentage of state revenue, but a strong oil and gas sector should always make up a part of the Russian portfolio.

    I think you are making the mistake of thinking development must equal a drive to maximise production, I see it more as a modernisation process whilst only maintaining approximate production rates. The Russian oil and gas sector is as backward as hell. The infrastructure is almost non-existent and the technology and processes antiquated. They have a grand total of one LNG plant in the whole country. Russia’s existing oilfields are beyond the point of being upgraded, any modernisation of Russia’s oil and gas industry must take place in new fields. If they don’t develop them, they will have to suffer the consequences of having 1970s technology in their facilities. Their car industry has already recognised this is a problem.

    The “public-private” nature of most of today’s Russian oil players encourages corruption and even over-production (and associated well damage), and certainly does not constitute a far-sighted plan to conserve resources.

    Which Russian oil players, exactly? The only companies I know of who overproduce at the expense of the well integrity are the state-owned ones.

    If I came to power, I would either enhance property rights while increasing the tax rate on oil exports from already developed deposits, or return to Soviet-style physical management with stringent controls on corruption and revised performance criteria that does not involve raising production.

    It was Soviet style management which demanded the increased production, leading to the water injection which has ruined a lot of Russia’s existing developments. Why on earth would you want to return to that?

  21. Which Russian oil players, exactly? The only companies I know of who overproduce at the expense of the well integrity are the state-owned ones.

    I was talking about those. They are public, but there are private interests behind them (i.e. the clans that control them) which divert some of the revenues into their own slush funds, and have an interest in overproduction because their oil company can be taken away on short notice should the Tsar turn against them.

    It was Soviet style management which demanded the increased production, leading to the water injection which has ruined a lot of Russia’s existing developments. Why on earth would you want to return to that?

    As I mentioned, the problem is that the criteria the Soviets was wrong, i.e. focused on increasing production never mind the costs in inefficiency / waste. I am not disagreeing with your point that modernization is not equivalent to output maximization, in fact I am very much for output reduction *and* greater efficiency!

    The reason I am in favor of output reduction is that I believe in peak oil and consequently that oil will become much more strategically important even than it already is. I also happen to believe that Russia passed its second peak in 2008-09 and that it will not decline at an accelerating pace whatever policy the government pursues. Finally, I think that Russia might as well control the pace of the decline itself rather than letting geology dictate it, such that its oil resources last longer relative to the world, than they would otherwise.

    Since you do share these beliefs, your conclusions are of course going to be different.

  22. NKomatsu says:

    This is a good interview, though a bit too long for me.

    I’m always wondering why Russia is paying no or little attention to booming Asia. It seems to me that it’s enigmatic for Russians not to exploit the enormous opportunities for future growth in Asia with its vast territory over Eurasia.

    Mr. Karlin insists Russia recognize its status as “a unique Eurasian civilization”. IMO, it’s a bit vague idea with little substance. I cannot but say, “Why don’t you say ‘Russia is going toward Asia, looking for the vast opportunities there’?”

    Recently, my country, Japan, has all been rushing to Asia, cutting business ties in North America and building numerous bases in China or South-East Asia. But I think Russia’s shadow in Asia is very bleak at least. None at worst.

    I know Russia’s love and hate toward the West, and IMO it is proved in this inverview by indicating no words for “Asia” in it. According to his resume, Mr. Karlin has “[c]omplete fluency in English and Russian”, and “[h]igh degree of reading fluency in French, and some knowledge of German and Latin”. Why don’t you learn, say, Kazak, Mongolian, or Korean? They all were (and are even now in some area) spoken in the former Soviet Union. I’m not blaming Mr. Karlin, but it looks like obvious that he is one of the typical Russians who are obsessed with the West, which I’m afraid would confine Russia’s future course.

    Sorry for my aggrandized comment. By the way, I learned economics by a Russian professor. He speaks Japanese and is married to a Japanese woman. He is a good teacher, though very demanding.

    • @NKomatsu,

      The reason Russia focuses on the West is that the bulk of its population lies much closer to Europe. The only part of the country that is truly in Asia is the Russian Far East, which only has about 6mn people, and this lack of scale severely stunts Russia’s economic possibilities in the region. While there is an intense debate in Russian society about whether they are “Europeans-Westerners” or “Russians-Eurasians”, almost no-one seriously considers it to be an Asian civilization; not surprisingly, because apart from the marginal influence of the Mongols, all of Russia’s cultural imports have come from the Greco-Romano-Germanic cultural space.

      In contrast, Japan is in Asia; all its core traditions, including religion, have come from Asia (mainly China); and prior to defeat in WW2, it even portrayed itself as a champion of Asia against the West. (Yet even so, according to a friend who spent quite a bit of time in Japan, its people still frequently compare themselves to the West, and even retain a certain inferiority complex towards it, like Russians; the Japanese certainly don’t have any similar complexes in relation to Asia).

      Hence the reason why Russia’s leaders have traditionally focused much more towards the West: it had better transport links with and cultural connections with East-Central Europe, Germany, Italy, and France; and it was in military competition with the US. Of course, the growing prominence of Asia means that things are slowly changing, and Russia is looking to take a greater interest in the region (see the rising political fortunes of Japanologist Sergey Naryshkin, the APEC 2012 Summit to be held in Vladivostok, etc), though core geographic realities means that Europe and the Middle East will continue to be higher up on the list of priorities.

      Why don’t you learn, say, Kazak, Mongolian, or Korean?

      There’s little point in learning Kazakh or Mongolian. I would like to learn Mandarin Chinese (or Japanese), but I haven’t yet had any good opportunities. Hopefully they’ll crop up someday.

      • DOOM!!!! says:

        How can you call the influence of the Mongols “marginal”? Do you know how many Russian words come from Mongol and Tatar? Or how many Russian names have Mongol or Tatar roots? Hell, the Mongols and people in Old Rus even wore the same kind of clothes. This is like saying the French had a marginal effect on English culture.

        • If you want to look at it that way, then so many nations have had so much influence on so many other nations that the term itself becomes near meaningless.

          Byzantium gave Russia its religion, alphabet, and political culture. Europe gave it modernization, industrialism, and Marxism. And the Mongols gave it a postal system and some words. The Mongol empire was culturally negligible, albeit once militarily powerful, and as such had very little staying power in the long-term in any of the territories it conquered.