Here’s a murder you probably won’t hear about in the Western press. Grigory Nosikov, 48, was found dead on Wednesday of stab wounds outside the gates of his house, which is located in the Naro-Fominsk district some 60 miles west of Moscow. Nosikov was not a journalist, oppositionist, or a human rights activist. If he was you would probably know his name and his life by heart by now. But no. Nosikov was a member of United Russia and deputy of the town council in Kubinka. Nosikov was also the owner of the Zalesye transportation company, and according to police, it was this, not his politics, which most likely led to his doom.
Nosikov is one of several deputies who have been murdered over the years. According to Argumenty i fakty, being a Russian deputy is a risky job. Not counting those in Ingushetia and Chechnya (which would make the list much, much longer), the weekly lists twenty four city and state parliamentary members who have been murdered since 1992. Twelve of them have been killed since Putin came onto the political scene. Interestingly, killing a elected official doesn’t seem to carry anymore weight than normal murder. Police have filed Nosikov’s killing under “murder” as outlined in part one of article 105 in the Russian Criminal Code. The penalty is a maximum 15 years in prison.
According to Moskovskii komsomolets, Nosikov’s murder occurred just after he and his partner, Ekaterina, returned home last Wednesday. She went into the house; Nosikov stayed behind to close the gate. “When the businessman got out of the car, the murder ran up to the courtyard and hit the politician over the head. After the deputy fell to the ground unconscious, the villain (negodiai) started stabbing him with a knife.”
People who knew Nosikov say that he was a “self-made” man. A former tank soldier and Afghan veteran, he and his partner started a business called the Kubin Bus Park, which began transporting passengers around the backwaters of the Odintsovsk region. His business soon expanded to include selling cars and transporting people in the neighboring Naro-Fominsk district. “But here Nosikov ran into problems” reports MK.
Business became difficult, says one source, once Noskiov entered the Naro-Fominsk market. His success was paid in becoming a target of “threats and demands that pull back his business” by the local mafia.
The mafia. No, really? In Putin’s Russia where United Russia dominates the political and economic scene? Aren’t deputies like Nosikov supposed to be the fleecers and not the fleeces? So much for that supposed power, prestige, and protection that comes from being a member and deputy for United Russia.
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By Sean — 2 years ago
Back in 2013, I wrote a post examining at the numbers of people in the Stalinist gulag compared to the US prison industrial complex. The post was in response to the Adam Gopnik’s and Fareed Zakaria’s claim that the over 6 million people in the US are under “correctional supervision” was higher than in the Stalinist gulag. Following a series of charts that broke down the prison population under Stalin, I concluded:
[There was an] estimated 7.4 million people were under Stalinist correctional supervision in 1953, exceeding Zakaria’s and Gopnik’s 6 million for the United States. Again the numbers are probably higher since these they don’t include everyone in the Stalinist penal system.
Things get even more complicated when you consider the gulag population per 100,000 citizens. According to Eugenia Belova and Paul Gregory, the Soviet institutionalized population in 1953 was 2,621,000 or 1,558 per 100,000. When you include special settlements, the numbers jump to 4,301,000 or 2,605 per 100,000. This puts the 760 per 100,000 in the United States into perspective.
I’ve come back to this issue because I ran across Burckina-Faso’s LiveJournal post that compares the numbers of prisoners per 100,000 people in the USSR from 1930 to 1940 to that of the Russian Federation and the United States from 1992 to 2002. I don’t know the source for these numbers, but assuming they’re correct, they once again raise questions about the USSR, the Russian Federation, and the United States as carceral states. And politically important for the current Presidential race in the US, politically considering the US numbers cover the tenure of Bill Clinton and now candidate Hillary Clinton’s “superpredator” comment in 1996.
While Burckina-Faso is attempting to suggest the idea of “ghastly” Stalinist repression as “hysterical,” I honestly don’t understand how it wasn’t ghastly when the prisoner population per 100,000 in the Soviet Union increased 1125 percent (114.7 in 1930 to 1126.7 in 1938) during some of the most repressive periods of Stalin’s rule. Part of this steep rise is due to falling mortality rates—population fell while prison population rose—during those years. But, even those excess deaths can be mostly attributed to repression: collectivization, famine, forced population transfer, prisoner deaths, and executions.
Okay, sure, Burckina-Faso’s point is that the average prisoner population per 100,000 persons during these years are comparable: 564 in the Soviet Union, 647.5 in the Russian Federation, and 623 in the United States. This is indeed ghastly as is the sheer ghastliness of the fact that when you compare the US prison population with the Stalinist, it makes you go, “Hmmm . . .” Though the increase in the US prison population in the 1990s was in no way as drastic as in the USSR in the 1930s, it still went up by 34 percent under Mr. Clinton.
And what about the prisoner population in the Russian Federation in the 1990s? Surely some of this was inherited from the Soviet system. Still, the prisoner population per 100,000 increased by 16 percent in the 1990s. Still awful, for sure.
So perhaps the best way to take all this is not try to argue which state was just as or more repressive, but that they are all repressive but for different reasons, in different ways, using different methods. Ghastliness doesn’t require equivalence.Post Views: 1,608
By Sean — 4 years ago
Over at the NYT, Paul Krugman has written some interesting posts on Russia’s economic woes: Putin on the Fritz; The Ruble and the Textbooks; Notes on Russian Debt, and Putin’s Bubble Bursts. Essentially, Krugman notes that falling oil prices and the collapse of the ruble have combined to add stress on the “terms of trade stock.” He explains:
What’s going on? Well, it turns out that Putin managed to get himself into a confrontation with the West over Ukraine just as the bottom dropped out of his country’s main export, so that a financing shock was added to the terms of trade shock. But it’s also true that drastic effects of terms of trade shocks are a fairly common phenomenon in developing countries where the private sector has substantial foreign-currency debt: the initial effect of a drop in export prices is a fall in the currency, this creates balance sheet problems for private debtors whose debts suddenly grow in domestic value, this further weakens the economy and undermines confidence, and so on.
Krugman fleshes this out in a longer column:
The proximate cause of Russia’s difficulties is, of course, the global plunge in oil prices, which, in turn, reflects factors — growing production from shale, weakening demand from China and other economies — that have nothing to do with Mr. Putin. And this was bound to inflict serious damage on an economy that, as I said, doesn’t have much besides oil that the rest of the world wants; the sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine conflict have added to the damage.
But Russia’s difficulties are disproportionate to the size of the shock: While oil has indeed plunged, the ruble has plunged even more, and the damage to the Russian economy reaches far beyond the oil sector. Why?
Actually, it’s not a puzzle — and this is, in fact, a movie currency-crisis aficionados like yours truly have seen many times before: Argentina 2002, Indonesia 1998, Mexico 1995, Chile 1982, the list goes on. The kind of crisis Russia now faces is what you get when bad things happen to an economy made vulnerable by large-scale borrowing from abroad — specifically, large-scale borrowing by the private sector, with the debts denominated in foreign currency, not the currency of the debtor country.
In that situation, an adverse shock like a fall in exports can start a vicious downward spiral. When the nation’s currency falls, the balance sheets of local businesses — which have assets in rubles (or pesos or rupiah) but debts in dollars or euros — implode. This, in turn, inflicts severe damage on the domestic economy, undermining confidence and depressing the currency even more. And Russia fits the standard playbook.
Except for one thing, he adds, corruption.
The reason why Russian companies have so much debt is because elites have cannibalized the companies they run by skimming off the top and shipping that money abroad.
Where does the elite get that kind of money? The answer, of course, is that Putin’s Russia is an extreme version of crony capitalism, indeed, a kleptocracy in which loyalists get to skim off vast sums for their personal use. It all looked sustainable as long as oil prices stayed high. But now the bubble has burst, and the very corruption that sustained the Putin regime has left Russia in dire straits.
Basically, Putin’s kleptocracy worked fine and dandy as long as there were enough petrodollars to sustain the theft. Now that the price of oil has plummeted, those accrued foreign currency debts are coming back with a vengeance. So this economic crisis is no blimp, but based on the very structure of the Putinist economy. There’s no quick remedy for this.Post Views: 780
By Sean — 5 years ago
Yesterday, I suggested that Ukrainian protesters are fetishizing Europe. My single point was that in doing this, Ukrainians’ favoring the association agreement with the EU might turn that relationship into a false promise. The response to the post was overwhelming. Many found it insightful. Others charged that dreaming of Europe was better than the status quo under Yanukovich. Perhaps. I don’t follow Ukrainian politics enough to say, and I certainly wonder how an association agreement with the EU will make the short term situation any better. That said, the protests have moved from a join EU revolt to a get rid of Yanukovich revolt. What will ultimately happen is in the stars. Yanukovich is digging in his heels. Today, the oppositionists in the Rada failed muster the 226 votes needed to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov.
As for the status of the association agreement, in a statement on Sunday, Yanukovich said, “I will do everything possible to advance the process of Ukraine’s rapprochement with the European Union, but without any serious losses for this country’s economy or deterioration of the citizens’ living standards. We must be only guided by national interests and be responsible for our own future. We should defend Ukraine on the political map of Europe and the world as a great and absolutely independent state.”
This will hardly placate people in the streets who are calling for his head.
It does, however, raise the question as to what Ukraine will get by signing the EU agreement. Does it threaten Ukraine as Yanukovich’s statement implies? Few have devoted much discussion to the actual content of the agreement. The main provisions are available here. What do they portend for Ukraine? Jozsef Borocz has outlined them in an insightful post on LeftEast, Terms of Ukraine’s EU-Dependency. In a nutshell, there seems to be little benefit for Ukraine in this agreement.
On the economic front, Borocz writes:
As the EU’s own publication suggests, the business linkages between the EU and Ukraine are quite skewed already. Ukraine exports EUR 14.6 billion worth of goods to the EU and imports EUR 23.8 billion, producing a 9.2 billion trade imbalance. In the area of investment, the imbalance is outright grotesque: EUR 2 billion from Ukraine, EUR 23.8 billion from the EU to Ukraine (resulting in a fairly breathtaking, EUR 21.9 billion, imbalance). Given those figures, even without the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area), the economic linkage structure between the EU and Ukraine offers itself as a textbook study in external trade and investment dependence.
The draft agreement is absolutely adamant that the key purpose of this exercise is removal of all remaining tariffs and other trade barriers for EU capital:
“The DCFTA, linked to the broader process of legislative approximation will contribute to further economic integration with the European Union’s Internal Market. This includes the elimination of almost all tariffs and barriers in the area of trade in goods, the provision of services, and the flow of investments (especially in the energy sector). Once Ukraine has taken over the relevant EU acquis, the EU will grant market access for example in areas such as public procurement or industrial goods” (p.3.)
The expected benefit of the removal of “almost all tariffs and barriers” is that “The DCFTA once in force will provide tariff cuts which will allow the economic operators of both sides to save around 750 millions euros per year in average (most of the customs duties being lifted)” (p.4.)
Given the disparities between the two would-be contracting entities (1.5 to 1 in trade, 11 to 1 in investment and 40 to 1 in economic power), it is not difficult to imagine what percentage of that EUR 750M, resulting from the lifting of trade barriers, would go to the EU and what part will go to Ukraine.
But that is, really, small change compared to the liberalization of investment. In addition to liberalizing trade, the DCFTA also envisages a significantly more open investment “climate.” This is so much so that the agreement not only emphasizes investment, but even specifies what it has in mind: “investments (especially in the energy sector)” (p.3.) Just in case this was not clear enough, the document repeats, “New trade and investment opportunities will be created and competition will be stimulated” (p. 4.). But it’s not over: “Through the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), to which Ukraine is eligible IFI investments could be leveraged. The NIF aims at mobilising additional funding to cover the investment needs of Ukraine for infrastructures in sectors such as transport, energy, the environment and social issues (e.g. construction of schools or hospitals).” This is all very nice, except there is absolutely no mention of the terms under which all this investment in human infrastructure would take place, who would do them, from what funds, etc. None of that.
And on the requirement that Ukraine begin to adopt EU institutional and regulatory standards, a much idealized prospect for many Ukrainians opposed to Yanukovich’s refusal to sign the agreement:
The draft agreement also envisages that Ukraine will gradually “approximate” the acquis communautaire, i.e., the EU’s body of laws and regulations. This is an apparently completely neutral and technical provision. However, beyond the technical and the apparent neutrality, there are two key points to be remembered here.
First, clearly, the diplomatic frame of the draft agreement (two contracting parties come to an agreement) is highly deceptive: What is actually going on is the full adoption of a set of external legal materials by a smaller, economically weaker, actor, under political pressure by a bigger, economically stronger and politically superordinate party. I have analyzed the structure of such a grossly asymmetrical relationship in my paper, “The Fox and the Raven. . .”, available here or here with respect to Hungary’s EU-accession negotiations 15 years ago. . .
Second, keep in mind: In a fairly fundamental way, the main (some would probably say, the only) purpose of the EU’s community laws and regulations is removal of all the institutional mechanisms that the EU’s member states had developed over the centuries for the protection of their internal economies from exogenous crises, unfair competition and unforeseen fluctuations of all kinds. So, when we see a reference to adoption (or, as in the case of Ukraine, “approximation”) of the acquis communautaire, we need to remember that the acquis is, by definition, a neoliberal tool, designed to increase the global sway of transnational capital based in western Europe. That’s what it is, no less, no more.
Finally, there is the question of what EU-parlance calls (from a sociological perspective, quite imprecisely,) ‘mobility’ (i.e., the freedom of movement for not just goods, services and investment, but also of people, including the right to settle, to work, to study and to participate in democratic political life without exclusion or diminution). This is important for three reasons. First, it goes to showing the depth of the EU’s commitment to embracing Ukraine as a society, not just an economic area; second, it is a deeply emotional expectation, very much on the minds of all people, especially east Europeans outside the EU, and, third, it is at this point that the EU-Ukraine rapprochement runs into the hard realities of west European quasi-racism vis-a-vis east Europeans, something I have called, in a paper entitled “Goodness Is Elsewhere. . .”, the rule of European difference (available here or here, see esp. pp. 125-134).
To put it bluntly, the draft agreement is extremely vague about movement of Ukrainians in Schengen-land. Savor this language: “The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement.” (pp. 1-2.) And, again: “The EU and Ukraine commit through the Association Agreement to increase their dialogue and cooperation on migration, asylum and border management. The importance of the introduction of a visa free travel regime for the citizens of Ukraine in due course, provided that the conditions for well-managed and secure mobility are in place is recognised in the Agreement” (p. 3.)
In other words, there is absolutely no commitment on part of the European Union, or its Schengen common migration management system. Even the visa requirement, currently in place, will not be lifted for a while. When exactly? Well, “in due course.” This is the absolutely vaguest diplomatic language. It binds the EU to nothing, not even to easing the visa requirement, let alone abolishing it (which would allow citizens of Ukraine to travel to Europe as they please) let alone the right to stay, study, or work there. Absolutely none of that is mentioned here.
People familiar with the EU-”enlargement” process will, no doubt, point out that that–i.e., free movement of persons, the right to settle, work, etc.–will come later, with (actually, usually seven or so years after) full membership. So, that brings us to the question, what about it? What does the agreement say about full membership?
Here it is: 0.
The word “membership” appears in the document once, referring to WTO membership. This should be absolutely clear: Ukraine will not be a member of the European Union; not in the foreseeable future.
Again, I understand the idea of being in Europe. As many argue, it certainly beats being in Russia’s orbit. So maybe the lack of immediate benefits is worth the long-term risk. If the majority of Ukrainians cherish the symbolic importance of the EU, then godspeed. But I think there is a false choice here as much as there is a force choice. Ukraine’s desire to be in the EU should be separated from the problems with Yanukovich. But because of its dire economic situation, Ukraine is being forced to make a decision—cast its future with the EU or with Russia. But people must understand that the EU path—and frankly the association agreement doesn’t appear to be a path to membership. It is an attempt at neoliberalizing Ukraine—isn’t going to necessarily bring the promised land. As Borocz concludes what Ukrainians are really demanding is “significantly increased exposure of their economy to capital from a forty times bigger and much richer economic area; demolition of the tariff barriers that might prevent the full siphoning-off of their resources, and absolutely no promise of equality, citizenship, democracy, or even an increased freedom of movement.”Post Views: 1,670