Filed under: Russia
Vladimir Frolov received his first degree from the Moscow Defense Institute of Foreign Languages and a Ph.D. in political science from the Moscow Diplomatic Academy. He was an operative of the Russian government, working at Russian Embassy in Washington D.C. before serving as the Deputy Staff Director of the State Duma Committee on Foreign Affairs and Counsel to the Deputy Chief of the Presidential Administration for Foreign Policy. If you Google Frolov, one of the top 10 hits you will get will be my blog La Russophobe's previous expose of his outrages, linked to above.
These days, among other things, he continues to be an operative of the Kremlin at its nasty little propaganda blog known as "Russia Profile." Recently in that forum he wrote, reacting with slobbering glee to Time magazine's "Person of the Year" designation of Vladimir Putin:
Putin has a lot to do with Russia's coming back from the cold. The Putin presidency will be remembered for the country's economic resurgence. Since the financial meltdown of 1998, Russia's gross domestic product has grown more than six fold, while incomes have increased by a factor of four in less than 10 years.
There's only one little problem with this statement: Every single word is utterly false.
Not only has there been no such level of economic growth in Russia, but even if there were it would have absolutely nothing to do with with any polices of the Russian dictator.
Michael McFaul (on Slate magazine) and Michael Weiss (on the Pajamas Media blog) have already blown to smithereens the idea that any of Putin's actions helped Russia grow. In fact, to the contrary, McFaul argues that Russia would have grown far more without Putin. So there's not much more to say on that topic except to point out Frolov's flagrant dishonesty (or simply ignorance) in failing to even mention the indisputable points they make.
But that is almost besides the point, because one doesn't reach the question of how much credit (if any) Putin should get for Russian growth until one first determines whether any such growth has in fact occurred. Frolov, as is the Russophile wont, gives no source material for his claims whatsoever. But buried at the bottom of a discussion forum reacting to Frolov's remarks, after the breathless comments of a couple of rabid Russophiles (including a Russian and a non-Russian stock broker who earns his living convincing foreigners to put their money into Russia), Ira Strauss does. He lays bear the fundamentally fraudulent nature of Frolov's claim that Russia in truly devastating critique:
"Since the financial meltdown of 1998, Russia's gross domestic product has grown more than six fold." That would be more than a 20 percent annual growth rate. Yet Russia's annual growth rate claims are less than half that amount. What can explain such a huge discrepancy in Russia's statistical pretensions?
It recalls Mark Twain's saying: "There are lies, damned lies, and statistics."
When misleading claims feed on one another and applause lines abound without correction, one has to wonder why. Putin's Russia has talked a good game. Its media have given an echo effect to its self-applause lines -- an effect the people and regime were accustomed to in Soviet times, conspicuously absent in the Gorbachev-Yeltsin era. Perhaps some people find it helpful as a kind of therapy. Reality is a more painstaking matter.
A week ago in the Wall Street Journal ("Russia by the Numbers," December 17, 2007), Stephen Sestanovic laid out an honest corrective to the nagging falsehoods perpetuated about the Russian economy. For one thing, much of the boasting is based on using purchasing power parity numbers (PPP), which are useful for approximating living standards, but tell nothing about international economic clout. In global trade, Russia remains insignificant except for its oil and gas. For another thing, even in PPP terms, Russian per-capita income under Putin "has gone from somewhat less than a third of the level of France and Italy to somewhat more than a third." Putin used to bemoan that "it would take 15 years of 8 percent economic growth for Russia's per-capita income to equal Portugal's." And today? "With all its growth Russia is gaining ground, but the absolute gap between the two countries is only modestly narrower than when Mr. Putin first compared them -- just over $12,000 then, just under $11,000 now."
There is more change in the boasting and the spin than in the numbers.
The gap between the United States and Russia is, on the other hand, even wider today than it was in 1998.
The really sad thing here, as anyone familiar with Russia knows only too well, is that one can't really be sure whether Frolov is spewing these ridiculous lies because he's evil or because he's stupid. He could just as well be a paid propaganda agent of the Kremlin as an ignorant neo-Soviet cretin, totally brainwashed by the Kremlin's propaganda assault. And it's hard to decide which alternative is the more gloomy harbinger for Russia's future.
On top of all that dishonesty, Frolov doesn't say one single word -- not one word -- about Russia's profligate recent history of human rights abuses, leading for instance to a seemingly endless string of convictions -- including for state-sponsored murder -- by the European Court for Human Rights. So even if Russia had experienced magnificent growth, and even if Putin were personally responsible, that wouldn't necessarily be good for Russia as a country: Stalin and Hitler might have had wonderful balance sheets for a time, but they both destroyed their nations.
And while Frolov blithely labels Putin's foreign policy merely "increasingly assertive" commenter Stephen Blank of the U.S. Army War College explains how bizarre that incantation really is:
Mr. Frolov's characterization of Russian policy achievements is far too rosy a scenario. The sad fact is that while Russia has undoubtedly been more assertive on the world stage, it has also been more obstructionist in its policies. The country ends 2007 perhaps richer, but more self-isolated than before. The deliberate stoking of nationalist, chauvinistic rhetoric warning of enemies at the gates, generated for domestic purposes, is now exacting its cost.
Russia has both created a mutant strain of crypto-fascist racism and xenophobia at home and then provoked a new cold war with a country that has an economy 12 times larger than Russia's (as well as many allies, whilst Russia has none to speak of) abroad. It has, in other words, brought the Soviet Frankenstein back to life -- and Frolov is delighted.
One failure, it seems, is not enough for him. With "friends" like that, Russia needs no enemies.