Follow the Money

Why haven’t Western companies lined up to demand that their governments repeal sanctions on Russia? After all, hadn’t they been used to making oodles of rubles? Wouldn’t they like to make some more?

I’ve never had much patience for the peculiarly Russian question of “кому это выгодно” – literally, “who benefits” – when it comes to policy analysis. It implies a logic that is simpler and more transparent than reality actually is and allows for a bit more solipsism than is generally healthy. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth following the money (to use the American idiom) – not because it always gets you where you need to go, but because it generally at least points in an interesting direction. And in the case of Russia and sanctions, it is particularly interesting to look at exactly who is making money in Russia.

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How to lose for winning

Active Measures

It’s hard to ignore Paul Krugman.

Leading lights of the neo-con foreign policy establishment – people like Anders Aslund and Anne Applebaum – are doing double-takes as they find themselves re-tweeting a recent column by the left-wing economist, in which Krugman wonders aloud whether Donald Trump might be working for Vladimir Putin.

To be fair, Krugman doesn’t actually say that Trump is an agent of the Kremlin. Instead, he points out the ways in which Trump’s politics – his disregard for the rule of law, his knee-jerk reactionism, his moral and financial corruption – resemble Putin’s. And then he points out the very real ties that some members of Trump’s team, particularly campaign manager Paul Manafort, have to the Kremlin (and to numerous other odious governments around the world). And, Krugman says, it stinks.

The real hack job in what is becoming something of a trend in American punditry, though, belongs to Franklin Foer. Writing in Slate, Foer pieces together evidence and observation in ways that are suggestive but nothing more than that, then accompanies them with sinister black-and-white images of Putin peering  over Trump’s shoulder; you’ve got to read the fine print to find out that they’re “photo illustrations” (i.e., photoshopped). “In the end,” Foer writes, “we only have circumstantial evidence about the Russian efforts to shape this election—a series of disparate data points and a history of past interference in similar contests. But the pattern is troubling, and so is the premise.”

Foer and Krugman are wrong.

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Don’t Look Now

The UK Companies House has begun releasing its ‘beneficial owners’ registry – technically, ‘People With Significant Control‘ of enterprises registered in Britain. The data are a bit of a bear to work with, and, if you’re a Russianist, hardly worth the trouble.

Out of the nearly 11,000 entries in the registry to date, only four have Russian nationality, of whom two are domiciled in Russia, one in Switzerland and one in Ukraine. And none of them are particularly noteworthy. The same goes for the companies they control, although perhaps the names Huxby Ltd, Direkt Finanz AG Ltd, European Oil Trading Management Ltd and Unimarket International Ltd will have more meaning to others than they do to me.

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Everything Is True and Nothing is Possible

Let this be a lesson to those who think that Donald Trump cannot win.

The decision by a majority of British voters to leave the European Union is not a rejection of Brussels; most British voters know little of how the EU works and care even less. Nor was it a rejection of Westminster (a good chunk of which supported Brexit), or of the elite (public school boys Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage won the day).

This was something more: Brexit is a rejection of the political community as such.

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Russia’s Trickle-Up Economy

Somebody might want to remind Anton Siluanov that Russia’s got elections coming up.

United Russia – the ruling ‘party of Putin’ that isn’t allowed to use the Russian president’s name or likeness as it campaigns to keep control of the State Duma in September – has never been less popular than it is now. And it’s no wonder: While Putin gets the credit for Crimea, Syria and restoring Russians’ pride in their country, United Russia gets left holding the flag for the flagging economy. And so uninspiring are the party’s leaders, that Putin’s handlers are evidently concerned that United Russia’s unpopularity might rub off on the president himself; hence the ban on even using Putin’s name.

But Finance Minister Anton Siluanov doesn’t have time for the niceties of electoral politics. He’s got an economy to run. And in a statement today, he’s made it abundantly clear that improving the welfare of ordinary Russian citizens – the sort who usually vote for United Russia – isn’t among his top priorities.

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Object Lessons

In 1987, when I was a sixth-grade pupil at Hope Valley Elementary School in Durham, North Carolina, our social studies teacher asked us a question: What do you hate most about our school?

“The homework!” someone shouted, inevitably.

“The cockroaches in the cafeteria!” someone else added.

“The food in the cafeteria!” followed, and it was, I think, probably worse than the roaches.

At the age of 11, we had begun learning about politics and had watched, if memory serves, a documentary about Solidarity in Poland. On their example, we wrote down all of our gripes and signed our names, put it in an envelope and addressed it to the principal. Then we got out cardboard and markers: “Down with dodgeball!” “Fix the lights!” “Improve the food!” That afternoon, when the bell rang after recess, we didn’t return to our classroom. Instead, we got out our signs and began marching in circles around the flagpole. Twenty minutes later, an exasperated secretary came out to tell us that, if we would only go back to class, the principal would be happy to meet with us in the morning to discuss our demands.

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