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My microcosmic view comes from visiting there, not from some budgetary or economic figures I could produce.

Russia is a few islands of limitless prosperity, Moscow and some energy-rich towns such as Ekaterinburg : there, you will find just the same consumption excesses, SUV, large German cars, traffic jams, as any in the "West".

Yes, they are finalizing this rail link with Sheremetevo, but that's Moscow, and Russia is vast.

Outside these islands of extreme wealth, absolutely nothing is being done. Hop onto a train towards Kazan or Yaroslavl, and you will be transported in the same wagons that were used 40 years ago. The public buses or tranways in the little provincial towns are in an appalling state of disrepair. The local authorities show no interest in taking care of their own.

Many, many villages are just abandonned, inhabited by a few old women, old churches crumbling, local roads in an awful state, perfectly good houses just left empty. You could say it's just the same phenomenon as everywhere else, people leaving the countryside, but at least here in France some wealth still percolates from the large centers towards the most outlying villages. Not in Putin's Russia.

The order is the order of the powerful. An example, I filled up the tank of the little Moskvitch I was driving, and was asked to pay for more liters than what the tank actually contains. When I suggested to my friends that maybe we should complain to the authorities, I was told that they were part of the scheme.

The local hospitals can't any more pay decent salaries to their doctors, so most of them just move to larger towns. So those who stay, well, may not be the best.

What I am trying to say is that with all his smarts, Putin still is a short sighted politician, who couldn't be bothered with optimizing Russia's energy windfall. He isn't any better than a Sarkozy or a Brown. He does not have a strategic long term view of what to do for the future of Russia. Why, if he did have one, he would have nationalized oil and gas and aluminium a long time ago, he would build high-speed train links across the country.

Trains are vital in Russia, because of the winters, and because of the distances.

Now, I'd be quite happy to be proven wrong, because I just love those Europeans from the East, and I wish them the best...

And sorry for the rambling post.

by balbuz on Sun Jul 6th, 2008 at 11:24:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Trains are vital in Russia

They carry all the freight, unlike in western Europe where trucks do it. And they are the future of passengers traffic, when liquid energy is just too expensive.

by balbuz on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 06:23:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My microcosmic view comes from visiting there, not from some budgetary or economic figures I could produce.

Same here.  Have I been throwing about some budgetary or economic figures?

Russia is a few islands of limitless prosperity, Moscow and some energy-rich towns such as Ekaterinburg : there, you will find just the same consumption excesses, SUV, large German cars, traffic jams, as any in the "West".

On this we don't disagree.

Outside these islands of extreme wealth, absolutely nothing is being done. Hop onto a train towards Kazan or Yaroslavl, and you will be transported in the same wagons that were used 40 years ago. The public buses or tramways in the little provincial towns are in an appalling state of disrepair. The local authorities show no interest in taking care of their own.

Your comment was about Sheremtevo & that is what I was responding to.  

Here's what I don't get.  The freakish need to find somethingng to lecture Russia about.  Like anyone in the West gives a flying!@#$ about the poor people of Yaroslavl.  I mean, I wish we did, but I'm guessing they are in our thoughts oh about the same amount of time as ... Alton IL (American river town in a very similar demographics/financial situation.)  Yaroslavl is actually a lovely little town, btw,  I & one I had little trouble getting to.

Many, many villages are just abandoned, inhabited by a few old women, old churches crumbling, local roads in an awful state, perfectly good houses just left empty. You could say it's just the same phenomenon as everywhere else, people leaving the countryside, but at least here in France some wealth still percolates from the large centers towards the most outlying villages. Not in Putin's Russia.

How on earth do you expect to get away with comparing FRANCE and RUSSIA?  Again, we see the icky desire to be like God and create Russia in our own image.  Do you have any clue how much larger Russia is than France?  So let's for a moment not even think about Siberia and limit the discussion to areas like the Golden ring.  After the fall of communism these areas were in a fierce state of disrepair.  We can blame the current administration for not doing enough to improve them, but they are hardly responsible for creating the situation.  I'm astounded by the complete lack of perspective.  70 years of communism.  10 years of anarchy.  And in the last 8 years, small villages have not been successfully gentrified!  What a disgrace!  Putin's Russia is not like France.  Maybe Sarkozy should go Napoleon and try to make it so.  Meanwhile, the task is finding jobs and food for the people.  

The order is the order of the powerful. An example, I filled up the tank of the little Moskvitch I was driving, and was asked to pay for more liters than what the tank actually contains. When I suggested to my friends that maybe we should complain to the authorities, I was told that they were part of the scheme.

It's ceratianly not a culture for complaining to the authorities.   If you are looking for a place where everything is fair and utopian, I don't suggest going to Russia.  
The local hospitals can't any more pay decent salaries to their doctors, so most of them just move to larger towns. So those who stay, well, may not be the best.

FWIW, this is a problem in the US too.  But it is a problem.  That is true.  Jobs, food, health care.  I believe it was Putin's admin which wanted to privatize the whole system of health care.  Medvedev has been talking more and more about social welfare.  They know there is a problem.  Solving that problem could not have been priority #1 under Putin's administration, which was focused on establishing some semblance of civil society and for lack of a better term, "getting their act together".

What I am trying to say is that with all his smarts, Putin still is a short sighted politician, who couldn't be bothered with optimizing Russia's energy windfall. He isn't any better than a Sarkozy or a Brown. He does not have a strategic long term view of what to do for the future of Russia. Why, if he did have one, he would have nationalized oil and gas and aluminium a long time ago, he would build high-speed train links across the country.

You're entitled to your opinion.  But you are acting like all of Russia lives in Siberia.  You are acting like the government hasn't taken a hand in optimizing Russia's energy windfall which was previously solely going into the pockets of a few individuals.  It's now being redistributed in a way in which most people have benefited from at least a little.  The poor?  You think giving them high-speed trains is the answer?  There are trains and busses.  They work fine.  Sometimes.  You really sound like someone working in or investing in the high-speed train industry who is just miffed more money hasn't been spent on your baby, and are saying therefore it is the poor in Russia who suffer.  

The poor in Russia suffer because industry towns were built where people were never meant to live.  They suffer because the social safety nets of Communism were pulled from under them.  They suffer because a corrupt system has some of their regions going badly governed.  (Not all.  Apparently the Chukotka area is getting new hospitals and schools and other Oligarch hand-outs.)  They suffer because they are out in the middle of nowhere with little means of living.  

But their suffering HAS improved, if marginally in some cases.  Small business and farmers' grants and loans are being made available.   Some reform has been made in the way regions are governed.  (And yes, I think it is an improvement to go from gangsters being able to just buy a governorship and shoot anyone who opposes them to having to be appointed by the President.)

I don't think the Putin administration was perfect, uncorrupt or accomplished everything that needed to be accomplished.  Who knows what Medvedev will do.  But I do know that despite imperfection, corruption and term limits, what the Putin administration did accomplish is admirable.  Russia's not France.  Russia has never been and never will be.  Even if everyone did everything right.  There is too much working against it, from geography to history to global ignorance.

Everyone who says Russia is stupid if it squanders this window of opportunity:  I could not agree more.  I just disagree on the extent to which they have done so and are even able to do so.  There is always room for improvement.  I just think you're overestimating how much room they've been given.  I mean, they are still in the process of working out a new system of government.  And generally, making sure people can eat and aren't shot walking down the street is a higher priority than ... a pretty new high-speed train to the Urals!

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 11:57:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
great discussion, balbuz and poemless!

russia is really coming alive for me in these comments.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:09:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for calling this a "discussion."  I was afraid I'd been a bit too rough on balbuz.  He struck a nerve.

I do think he makes some important points, though.  I probably should have made that clear earlier.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:14:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
you're getting better at handling opinions you don't completely agree with, imo.

plus, you're one feisty babe..

<ducks>

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:50:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
thanks. :)

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 02:52:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite surprised by your tone. Won't be caught again.

Randomly :

Here's what I don't get.  The freakish need to find somethingng to lecture Russia about.  Like anyone in the West gives a flying!@#$ about the poor people of Yaroslavl.

I do. I know people there. And my Russian friends over there make the exact same remarks as I have done in my comments.

How on earth do you expect to get away with comparing FRANCE and RUSSIA?  Again, we see the icky desire to be like God and create Russia in our own image.

Unfair.

Do you have any clue how much larger Russia is than France?

Of course not.

by balbuz on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:08:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite surprised by your tone. Won't be caught again.

:)
As Melo points out, I am getting better at these things.  Baby steps.  Also erm, it's not excuse, but I was just in from a rainstorm and soaking wet when I read your post.  No excuse, of course, but know you're not entirely responsible for my bad attitude.  Just a little. ;)

I do. I know people there. And my Russian friends over there make the exact same remarks as I have done in my comments.

You do.  Your friends do.  I do.  But I doubt most of the world does.  

Unfair.

Not entirely, given how the west has behaved toward Russia in the past 17+ years.  It's exactly how we've acted.  Now that Russia's decided it's not a country to be moulded into whatever the west wants it to be, we're quite quick to point out how they are doing it wrong.  And by "it" I mean, "fixing a slew of problems we actually helped to create."  

Of course not.

:)

Look, I'm a bit reactionary about these things.  I generally am very uncomfortable thinking I or anyone outside Russia knows or should say what is best for Russia.  Which does not mean there are not things to criticize.   Moreover, almost all of the criticisms I see are not sincerely motivated by the welfare of the Russian people.  They are motivated by our insecurities and by scapegoating.  I will not doubt your sincerity.  But for the most part, the people I now hear bemoaning the plight of poor Russians, ruled by a corrupt system, victims of the current leadership, were either perfectly silent when the same people were living in desperation in the 90's or were even cheerleading the system that was creating such desperation.  So incredulity is my default position.  Another default position is to not underestimate the difficulty of the tasks Russia has before itself.  

Also, given what has been accomplished in the past 8 years, Putin may be many many many things, but I have seen little evidence to suggest he is "stupid" or simply enjoying today's spoils at the expense of tomorrow.  I don't think he is a humanitarian by any stretch of the imagination.  But he seems to be acutely aware that his legacy will be that of Russia's, for better or for worse.  

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:40:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, thanks for the serious commentary.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.
by poemless on Mon Jul 7th, 2008 at 04:43:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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