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Key Economic Data 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
Millions of US $ 433,491 346,520 310,000 16
GNI per capita
 US $ 2,610 2,140 1,750 97
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

Books on Russia


Update No: 349  (29/01/10)

The Perverse Country
Russia tried autocracy; and it worked in a way, but ultimately didn't work at all. After Tsarism, it tried communism; and it worked, but in too awful a way to last. After the USSR, it tried capitalism; and in its intrepid post-Cold War triumphalist form it didn't work. There are multifarious reasons no doubt for these multiple failures, or at least demi-failures. What next?

Out of step as it is, maybe global warming, the bane of the rest of the world, can be its saviour.

It still has several great advantages. It is utterly vast, easily the largest country on Earth. Yet it is not overpopulated by contemporary standards; its people number less than 150 million, We should all be grateful that the heart of Eurasia, by far the most important continent, is inhabited by a sparse, highly talented people, who have delivered to the world a series of literary masterpieces, brilliant operas and a whole new art-form, ballet - as well as great scientists and engineers.

Its own heartland is frozen over. But, as the world warms up, is there a more promising place?

There are problems
As anybody going about the world knows well, with any difficulty, the bromide one is always met with is, 'No problem.'

That is no sure indicator that there is a problem. Life is alas, if for the fortunate amongst dalliance and delights, a travail of dealing with problems.

This is what the world faces today - an infinity of problems - the globalisation of problems

Eurasia in flux
What is going to emerge as the Eurasian slime dissolves?
There are putrid substances galore about to surface. Just imagine what amount of nasty stuff the Soviet Union put away and its concupiscent, capitalist successor too. An infinity of infamous entities, nuclear waste, miscreant microbes and nasty micro-phenomena galore!

But the surprising thing is that the recuperative powers of nature are greater than expected. This should not of course engender complacency. But it is extraordinary to think that vast Siberia has a population of only 20 million people. It certainly has grave environmental problems, the pollution of Lake Baikal, the very disappearance of the Aral Sea in Kazakhstan. Even so, the situation is so much less dire than elsewhere, say in Africa, China or India, that Russia is not a prime worry for ecologists, excepting on the nuclear issue.

A new anti-alcohol campaign
A main reason for the actual decline in population is of course the scale of alcoholicism amongst males, whose life expectancy is in the mid-50s and dropping, while even that of females is barely 70. Why should a Russian woman want to bring offspring into the world by a chronic drunk, whose rearing will be precarious in the extreme? They have been turning to foreigners abroad by advertising themselves on internet marriage bureaux. Russia is losing many of its most nubile young women!

Putin is well aware of the problem, as was Gorbachev before him (Yeltsin less so, being enrolled in the ranks of the inebriated himself). Putin has made it a goal to cut alcohol consumption by 55% in the coming decade. Quite how this is to be achieved has yet to be spelled out. Higher taxation, rather than outright prohibition, is clearly the preferable route. Gorbachev's misguided persecution of viniculture ( more than 100,000 hectares of vineyards were re-assigned to agriculture in the late 1980s) and his ban on vodka, a far deadlier substance than wine, by closing down state vodka stills, simply shifted production into the shadow economy, run largely by gangsters, as in the US during the era of prohibition in the 1920s. Gorbachev despised Brezhnev and Co, for their double addiction to American gangster films of the time and of course to vodka. But he failed to learn the true lessons of this.

Whichever government in Russia loses control of the vodka stills is in deep trouble. A beleagured Tsardom did so in the early to mid- 1910s, with dire results. Gorbachev's did in the late 1980s, with grave results too. Putin is playing with fire.

Putin the strongman criticised from a surprising quarter
The daughter of Yeltsin, Tatyana Yumasheva, has leapt into the fray, criticising her father's choice of successor for overly-strong and manipulative policies all round. She was known as ‘Lady Rasputin’ in former days, exercising enormous power behind the scenes. After disappearing from public view for a decade, she is back.

This is seen by many as an opening salvo in a new bid for power, in which she could stand for high office, not just be the shadowy power behind the throne.

In a society where criticism of Putin is quite taboo in state media her challenge to his reputation is potentially serious. She is making it on the internet, which cannot be tightly controlled, unlike the old media. She is writing a new hard-hitting blog, whose main message is that his depiction of her father's reign as a total disaster and shambolic, is quite wrong. It also aims to shatter his image as the self-assured hard man who saved Russia from disintegration. The blog is evidently one of the most popular ones in Russia.

She discloses the fact that when Putin was hand-picked to succeed her father, he pleaded for Yeltsin to change his mind and then, when her father insisted, he pleaded for more time to adjust.

A new horse in the race
The timing is incredibly sensitive. Presidential elections are due in eighteen months' time in 2012. As in US elections, on which Russian ones are obviously modelled, candidates need at least such a long lead-time to establish themselves.

If Russian democracy is not to become a farce, a new candidate needed to enter the race. It was settling down to be a two-horse race between former president, now PM, Putin and his own chosen successor, Dimitry Medvedev, now president. Nobody doubted the outcome of that contest. Now it has been opened up into a genuine contest

She is opening it up by raising two arresting questions. What is the true relationship of the Putin and Yeltsin eras? And what about that between the sexes in Russia?

She is implying, although far too savvy to state it, that perhaps a Russian woman might be the best to take over. She may well feel, as did Margaret Thatcher, that she is the best of the men. She has looked after her own self-interest all right – but she now feels a genuine altruism and patriotism.

She has two things very much against her. She is indelibly associated with the many failures of the Yeltsin regime. And she is a woman in the most sexist of European countries.


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