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10 ways life in Russia is better than in America

Anatoly Karlin presents a no-holds barred and politically incorrect comparison of life in the two countries

Anatoly Karlin

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(The Unz Review) – It has now been exactly a year since I returned to Russia.

One of the questions I get asked the most from Russians and foreigners alike is whether I enjoy living here, or whether I am disappointed. My answer is that it fell within my “range of expectations”. I like to think that this is a function of my perception of Russia prior to 2017 having been reasonably accurate, and considering I was blogging as “Da Russophile” on Russia matters until 2014, that’s pretty much an accolade. In my experience, the typical response of visiting foreigners and expats to life in Russia is one of pleasant surprise, no wonder since Russia might as well be “Equatorial Guinea with hackers” so far as the Western media today is concerned. However, I banally didn’t have anything to be particularly surprised about, pleasantly or otherwise.

Even so, there are areas where Russia shines, as well as some where it doesn’t (that’s for an upcoming just published post on 10 Ways Life in America is Better than in Russia).

First, the good points – where Russia performs better than the United States.

***

spb-sapsan-2

Train station in Saint-Petersburg.

1. Everything’s So Cheap

I don’t have the foggiest how Moscow ever acquired its reputation as one of the world’s most expensive cities. Probably idiots and Intellectuals Yet Idiots dumb enough to buy the $5 bottled water at Sheremetyevo Airport before taking one of the shady, overpriced Caucasian gypsy cabs down to their five star hotels in central Moscow.

In reality, food, rent, utilities, property, hotels, travel, restaurants, museums, transport, healthcare, and education are all far cheaper than in major cities in the United States.

The basic staples – carbs, meat, eggs, vegetables, seafood, most alcohol – are all approximately twice cheaper. Boneless, skinless cuts of turkey are less than 300 rubles ($5)/kg at my local market, which is run by Armenians. Wild salmon, at 500 rubles ($9)/kg are actually cheaper than farmed salmon from Norway, though in another of Russia’s strange inversions, farmed salmon is more prestigious, unlike in the West. It is actually easier to list expensive exceptions. Vodka is still somewhat cheaper than in the United States, but only by a factor of perhaps 1.5x, instead of more like 10x some fifteen years ago; this is a good thing.

The Big Mac, a classic item international price comparisons, costs 130 rubles in the Moscow suburbs, which is twice cheaper than in Britain and the USA. A similar relationship holds as you move to more upscale restaurants, at least after you adjust for the requirement to pay tips in the USA.

For obvious reasons, anything that’s imported is similar to US/EU prices. To the extent this affects me, that’s only Tabasco sauce and some Indian spices. Prices are also comparable for domestically produced Russian wines, whose quality has been improving by leaps and bounds even in the one year that I’ve been here, helped along by sanctions and my personal demand. Probably the single item that I miss most due to the sanctions is feta cheese; there is an East European equivalent called brynza, but it’s not really comparable. Otherwise, local Russian producers have developed competitive alternatives to many popular West European cheeses, at least to the extent that I, a non-connoisseur, am unable to distinguish them from European imports (the local blue-veined cheeses I have found to be especially impressive). Unless you really can’t do without your little Gorgonzola and your little Gruyère and your particular brand of prosciutto, you should be just fine here.

Property and rent are both approximately thrice cheaper in Moscow than in comparable locales in London. However, in one of the few positive aspects of the post-Soviet privatizations, almost 90% of Russians own their own homes.

Most utilities are so cheap that they might as well be free. In the past year, I paid $8 (500R) per month for 72Mbps Internet versus $80 for 15Mbps downloads and 5Mbps uploads with Comcast in California, and $45 for 10Mbps downloads and 0.5Mbps (!) uploads in London. Similar numbers with mobile plans, and what’s better, unlike in the United States, there are no multi-year contracts which are next to impossible to get out of. In both cases, Russian prices are held down by vigorous competition, whereas in the United States many ISPs have de facto monopolies over any particular region. This might surprise some people, but much of Russia’s information infrastructure is more modern than in the USA – for instance, one click money transfers with national state-owned banking giant Sberbank have long been standard, whereas I received an email from Wells Fargo announcing this as a new functionality just a few months ago.

Road and rail transport is approximately 5x cheaper. A 100km rail journey from Moscow to Kolomna or Volokolamsk on an elektrichka costs no more than $5 (300R); in the UK, a similar journey from London to Portsmouth will cost at least £25. I paid about $75 for a high speed Sapsan to go from Moscow to Saint-Petersburg, though I could have gotten there for as cheap as $25 on platskart shared accommodation. In contrast, my American round-trip cost me $700 with Amtrak– and I sat the entire route (not something I would have the stamina for nowadays). In Saint-Petersburg, there were several three star hotels in the center offering accommodations for as low as $50 a night; a similar location in Washington D.C. would have set me back by at least $200 a night.

It’s not exactly a secret that the astronomical cost of American healthcare and higher education is the stuff of horror stories in Europe, and Russia is no exception. $4,500 endoscopies are very much an #OnlyInAmerica type of thing, even if you use private healthcare in Russia. One of my acquaintances did a one year Master’s program in International Relations at LSE last year, which cost $50,000; one year on a PhD program that you can do at one institution of the Academy of Sciences can cost $1,000, if not entirely free. Vets are also far cheaper. For instance, one of my acquaintances found a stray puppy several months ago, which required complex spinal work to fix her hind legs; this ended up costing an incredible $200.

The converse of all this is, of course, that Russian salaries are 4-5x lower than in the US. Adjusting for twice lower prices, the average Russian lives 2x poorer than the average American, and this gap is much larger for healthcare professionals and researchers. For example, while $10,000 per month is common for American anesthesiologists, his Russian equivalent would be lucky to take home $1,000.

On the other hand, this is paradise for anyone with a dollar-denominated income stream.

grain-field

Rural field.

2. Better Food

One possible cause of the massive rise in American obesity in the past generation is that the nutrients to calories of American crops has plummeted due to commercialized agriculture and the infiltration of corn and soy into every conceivable category of foodstuff. Russia is only at the start of this process, so the food you can buy at the local markets here tends to be organic and grass fed by default – and without the associated markup that you get in the West.

Speaking of the local markets, although it has much declined relative to the 1990s and the Soviet period, every so often you still meet a trader willing to barter and haggle. Although time-consuming, I would argue that it is also more “authentic” to the human experience; bargaining at local markets has long been an integral part of post-agricultural life, and perhaps many moderns miss it, as attested to by the inclusion of this mechanism in almost every video game RPG.

Apart from being healthier, many common foods are simply “better” than their equivalents in the West. Perhaps the two most striking examples are cucumbers and watermelons. The most common (and cheapest) cucumbers are small, prickly things, which are far less watery than the long, smooth ones you will encounter in a standard American or British supermarket. The watermelons of the Caspian region are bigger and far sweeter than the slurpy spheres that are standard in the West.

Russian cuisine doesn’t have a reputation for being exactly healthy. But it depends on what parts of it you adopt, really. Like the French, there is a culture of eating animals “from head to tail” in Russia, so it is easy to find organ meats and bones for making broth at the markets. I would also note the popularity of aspics here, which is known as kholodets; it is the paleo/ketogenic to the max. In my opinion, Russia also has some of the world’s best soups – my personal favorite is sorrel soup. All this shows up in waistlines – there are almost no obese young women.

In some categories, the variety on offer is substandard to what you can expect in the West – cheeses, spices, and wines are the obvious ones. In others, it is better – pickles come to mind, in both variety and quality (pickles in Russia are genuinely fermented, instead of being bathed in vinegar). Even though I live in a “prole” area of Moscow, my local tea shop has about thirty sorts of Chinese teas on sale, some of them remarkably rare, but all of them at rather reasonable prices. In London, you’d probably have to go to something like the venerable Algerian Coffee Store to find a similar Chinese tea collection.

kolomna-restaurant

Knyazich restaurant, Kolomna.

3. Nicer Service

Yes, you read that right. Shop assistants and waiters now tend to be at least as, if not more, courteous than their equivalents in the United States. Contra Matt Forney’s experience in Eastern Europe, I find that the stereotype of sullen sovok service is about as outdated as the hammer and sickle. Nor does this just apply to Moscow. Russia’s regional cities have also been rediscovering that the stale Soviet stolovaya had been preceded by service a la russe in Tsarist times.

One partial and amusing exception: Georgian restaurants, especially those with a long pedigree for supposed “excellence.” My theory is that in the USSR, Georgian cuisine was considered to be the most exotic cuisine accessible, at least to people outside the high nomenklatura, so those establishments continued to be patronized by Soviet people, with their less demanding requirements. Since people with the Soviet mentality primarily went to restaurants to network and to show off how rich they are, as opposed to just having a good time, you tend to get much less enjoyment for the ruble at those places.

The variety of restaurants one can choose from is almost as great as in the great Western metropolises. You don’t have near the same variety in Chinese and especially Indian restaurants that countries with huge diasporas from those two countries can boast, but those are substituted for by Central Asian and Caucasian cuisine. I am not a fan of Caucasian cuisine: Georgian cuisine is too pretentious, while Dagestani/Chechen cuisine is possibly the most primitive on the planet – their signature dish is dough and meat boiled in water, which I suppose is “honest” but hardly something to go out of your way for. However, I have gained considerable respect for Uzbek food (the Uryuk chain is recommended).

However, the center of Moscow has been crafted into an SWPL paradise, so there is no shortage of cuisines from American-style burger joints with craft beers and lettuce leaf burgers (no, really) to Vietnamese pho bars (I especially like the Viet Cafe chain).

Finally, unlike most of Europe – Moscow is a 24/7 city, like America. Most supermarkets and restaurants are open late into the night, or 24/7. Life here is convenient. Only major restriction: Shops can’t sell booze past 11pm.

map-metro-2033

Moscow Metro in 2033.

4. Public Transport

Moscow, Saint-Petersburg, and all the cities with around one million people have well-developed metro systems. Contrast this with the US, where the concept of “public transport” – at least outside the north-eastern seaboard, the Bay Area, and Seattle – is pretty much non-existent.

In fairness, the Moscow Metro closes at 1am (Saint-Petersburg at 12pm), whereas the New York subway works 24 hours a day – if with frequent stoppages. However, Moscow’s reputation for having the most aesthetic metro system in the world is well-deserved, even though I have a soft spot for Chicago’s old-style wooden platforms and Washington D.C.’s bunker-like concrete grottoes.

One problem in the old days was that Moscow’s metro stations were far apart, especially once you head out into the suburbs. But this is no longer relevant with the rise of the ride-sharing revolution. It is now trivial to get an Uber (or more frequently a Yandex Taxi) ride on the cheap to any part of Moscow.

moscow-afroshop

“Afroshop” near my other ghetto apartment. Still an exception, not the rule. But for how long?

5. Still Recognizably European

Many Russians complain about the flood of Central Asian Gastarbeiters. However, even Moscow – which remains about 85% Slavic, even adjusting for unofficial residents – feels like a veritable Whitopia after spending time in Latino-majority California and Londonistan. Moreover, Uzbeks and Tajiks are far preferable to many minorities in the West, such as US Blacks with their absurd crime rates, or the sea of black niqabs that you encounter in many areas of London.

Meanwhile, vast swathes of provincial Russia – including its central demographic heartlands – are as uniformly Slavic as the countries of Visegrad Europe. Even if they have their own, rather serious problems, such as poverty, corruption, and alcoholism. If you happen to value the quality of being amongst one’s own, then Russia does better than virtually any other white country outside Poland, Czechia, and the Baltics. Moscow is the last and only megacity in the world where Europeans remain a solid majority.

I don’t know if this will last. All major political factions in 1960′s Germany also expected their Gastarbeiters to eventually go home – didn’t work out like that. And there is as yet demographically tiny but nonetheless ideologically distinct and high IQ cluster of pro-”tolerance” and sundry “anti-racist” characters shilling for open borders. And they have a ready audience amongst Moscow’s blue-haired yuppies. I give it 15 years.

dacha-lake

Lake by our dacha.

6. The Outdoors

About 50% of Muscovites own a dacha outside the city, including people of modest means. 

This is much rarer in the United States and Western Europe, where only the upper-middle class has such opportunities.

Personally I don’t have much interest in this – the Internet is too slow, and there are too many biting insects – but people less autistic than myself will likely appreciate this.

moscow-parking

Typical Moscow sleeper suburb.

7. Freedoms

This might surprise people who associate Russia with reams of red tape, but while there’s no shortage of that, there are also any number of domains with few or no regulations.

Getting almost any drug is a simple matter of going down to the pharmacy and checking up if they have it in stock; if not, they can usually order it. While you need doctor’s prescriptions for some of the most elementary drugs in the United States, in Russia that is the exception, not the rule. They are also typically generic and cost much less than their equivalents in the United States, though there are far more counterfeits. Ergo for contact lenses – you just state your specifications and they order them; no eye tests required. Setting up a trading account is also much easier. Instead of filling out countless forms promising that yes, you do indeed have 5 years intimate experience with collateralized debt obligations, in Russia it’s pay to play. If you can bring money to the table, you’re good to go.

In effect, with the notable exception of gun rights, there is much less of the “nanny state” and more of what American conservatives call “personal responsibility” in Russia.

Russia is one of the world’s great pirate havens. No Internet provider is ever going to send you angry cease and desist letters for torrenting Game of Thrones. It is theoretically possible, but you can count the number of such cases on the fingers of your hand. (However, business-scale piracy has been cracked down upon and is much less prevalent than it was back in 2010). It is therefore no surprise that the world’s largest depositories of pirated books and scientific articles are Russian enterprises. The only things that most Russians don’t massively pirate is video games. Steam prices are 3-4x lower in the Eurasia region, making GabeN’s offerings even more of a cornucopia.

This freewheeling world, a legacy of the 1990s – a heaven for the intelligent and far-sighted, a potential hell for the duller and lower future time orientated (I have second-hand knowledge of some people who lost their apartments on currency speculation) – is being slowly but steadily constrained by more and more laws and regulations. The world is not long for the old Russia of limitless parking opportunities and playgrounds not yet despoiled by tomes of health and safety regulations. More worryingly, whereas the Russian Internet was genuinely free as little as half a decade ago, censorship on grounds of “extremism” is accelerating at an exponential pace. Even so, at least for now, many aspects of life are surprisingly freer and more accessible than in the putative “Free World.”

faggotry

8. Less Faggotry

Did that trigger you, snowflake?

Nobody in Russia cares, LOL.

Even though I don’t particularly care for hardcore homophobia, I consider the right to call things and people you don’t like “gay” as one of the most important freedoms there are. Happened all the time at school, but since I graduated in 2006, liberal faggots have all but criminalized this. Russia remains free of this cultural totalitarianism; here, you can still call a spade a spade and a gender non-fluid helicopterkin a faggot (пидор) without any particular worries for your professional career and social status.

I don’t think this will last so enjoy (or suffer) it while you still can.

moscow-zarydie

Zaryadye Park, Moscow.

9. Intellectual Ferment

Most of Russia is one large West Virginia so far as this goes. However, Moscow and to a lesser extent SPB are glaring and indeed cardinal exceptions.

Many new startups, including in exciting new fields like machine learning, quantified self, personal genomics. The city is buzzing with entrepreneurial energy.

Specific personal example: Back in the Bay Area, I liked involving myself in the futurist/transhumanist community. I can’t say that Moscow can compete with it, but it’s probably no worse than London in this respect, the foremost West European H+ cluster. There’s a LessWrong meetup group, a “techno-commercial” transhumanist group (Russia 2045), and an active community of radical life extension advocates, which overlaps into the cliodynamics community (the daughter of the guy who runs Kriorus, Russia’s Alcor, is also a cliodynamicist).

Even the nationalists are more interesting, more intellectual than their American or West European equivalents, as I observed in Saint-Petersburg. I suspect this is a function of Eastern Europe being less advanced on the path of Cultural Marxist rot, thanks to Communism effectively “freezing” social attitudes; the human capital hasn’t yet been fully monopolized by neoliberalism.txt. There is no real equivalent to the intellectual caliber of Sputnik and Pogrom in the United States.

As in Eastern Europe, my impression is that the historical recreation movement – perhaps as an implicit stand of white identity as any – is if anything stronger in Russia than in the United States.

 

moscow-cloudy

Dmitry Chistoprudov: Cloudy Moscow 7.

10. More Technologically Advanced

On coming to the Bay Area, the technological heart of the United States, tech writer Alina Tolmacheva struggled to hide her disappointment: “No flying hoverboards, food isn’t delivered by drones, and parking fees are paid with coins, whereas in Moscow everyone had long since switched to mobile apps.”

This is somewhat tongue in cheek, but the general point stands.

As she further points out, monopolies dominate transport, banking, telephones, and the Internet. The Caltrain from San Francisco Airport to Mountain View takes 1.5 hours. The highest building is 12 storeys of concrete in the style of Le Corbusier. “Rent is paid with checks. It is necessary to take a piece of paper, fill in the details, and send it by mail. The owner then goes to a bank branch and cashes it out. Technology older than VHS and cassette players.” In Moscow, even aged grandmothers have been collecting rent money through mobile apps for years.

Contactless payments are not yet prevalent in Moscow, like they are in London. But this is a minor issue. On the other hand, the Moscow Metro has already had free WiFi for several years, which is now in the last stages of becoming integrated into the wider Moscow transport system, including buses and trams. This is hugely convenient, since many commuters spend around an hour traveling in the Metro on working days. Neither London, nor BART in the SF Bay Area, nor any other American underground system that I know of has gotten round to installing free WiFI.

Moscow is more developed as a “technopolis” than any other major city in the Anglosphere.

Addendum

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy my comprehensive comparison of life in Russia, America and the United Kingdom that I wrote in 2011:http://akarlin.com/tag/national-comparisons/ .

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Trump Demands Tribute from NATO Vassals

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO are a captive audience.

Strategic Culture Foundation

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Authored by Tim Kirby via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Regardless of whether one loves or hates President Trump at least we can say that his presidency has a unique flavor and is full of surprises. Bush and Obama were horribly dull by comparison. Trump as a non-politician from the world of big (real estate) business and media has a different take on many issues including NATO.

Many, especially in Russia were hoping that “The Donald’s” campaign criticism of NATO would move towards finally putting an end to this anti-Russian alliance, which, after the fall of Communism really has no purpose, as any real traditional military threats to Europe have faded into history. However, Trump as President of the United States has to engage in the “realpolitik” of 21st century America and try to survive and since Trump seems rather willing to lie to get what he wants, who can really say which promises from his campaign were a shoot and which were a work.

So as it stands now Trump’s recent decision to maintain and build US/NATO bases across the world “and make country X pay for it” could mean anything from him trying to keep his campaign promises in some sort of skewed way, to an utter abandonment of them and submission to the swamp. Perhaps it could simply be his business instincts taking over in the face of “wasteful spending”. Making allies have to pay to have US/NATO forces on their territory is a massive policy shift that one could only predict coming from the unpredictable 45th President.

The one thing that we should all understand, and which Trump perfectly and clearly understands, is that the members of NATO (and other “allies”) are a captive audience, especially Germany, Japan and South Korea, which “coincidentally” are the first set of countries that will have to pay the “cost + 50%” to keep bases and US soldiers on their soil. Japan’s constitution, written primarily by American occupation forces forbids them from having a real military which is convenient for Trump’s plan. South Korea, although a very advanced and wealthy nation has no choice but to hide behind the US might because if it were to disappear overnight, then Gangnam would be filled with pictures of the Kim family within a few weeks.

In the past with regard to these three countries NATO has had to keep up the illusion of wanting to “help” them and work as “partners” for common defense as if nuclear and economic titan America needs countries like them to protect itself. Trump whether consciously or not is changing the dynamic of US/NATO occupation of these territories to be much more honest. His attitude seems to be that the US has the possibility to earn a lot of money from a worldwide mafia-style protection scam. Vassals have no choice but to pay the lord so Trump wants to drop the illusions and make the military industrial complex profitable again and God bless him for it. This level of honesty in politics is refreshing and it reflects the Orange Man’s pro-business and “America will never be a socialist country” attitude. It is blunt and ideologically consistent with his worldview.

On the other hand, one could look at this development as a possible move not to turn NATO into a profitable protection scam but as a means to covertly destroy it. Lies and illusion in politics are very important, people who believe they are free will not rebel even if they have no freedom whatsoever. If people are sure their local leaders are responsible for their nation they will blame them for its failings rather than any foreign influence that may actually be pulling the real strings.

Even if everyone in Germany, Japan and South Korea in their subconscious knows they are basically occupied by US forces it is much harder to take action, than if the “lord” directly demands yearly tribute. The fact that up to this point US maintains its bases on its own dime sure adds to the illusion of help and friendship. This illusion is strong enough for local politicians to just let the status quo slide on further and further into the future. Nothing is burning at their feet to make them act… having to pay cost + 50% could light that fire.

Forcing the locals to pay for these bases changes the dynamic in the subconscious and may force people’s brains to contemplate why after multiple-generations the former Axis nations still have to be occupied. Once occupation becomes expensive and uncomfortable, this drops the illusion of friendship and cooperation making said occupation much harder to maintain.

South Korea knows it needs the US to keep out the North but when being forced to pay for it this may push them towards developing the ability to actually defend themselves. Trump’s intellectual “honesty” in regards to NATO could very well plant the necessary intellectual seeds to not just change public opinion but make public action against US/NATO bases in foreign countries. Japan has had many protests over the years against US bases surging into the tens of thousands. This new open vassal status for the proud Japanese could be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Predicting the future is impossible. But it is clear that, changing the fundamental dynamic by which the US maintains foreign bases in a way that will make locals financially motivated to have them removed, shall significantly affect the operations of US forces outside the borders of the 50 States and make maintaining a global presence even more difficult, but perhaps this is exactly what the Orange Man wants or is just too blind to see.

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High-ranking Ukrainian official reports on US interference in Ukraine

It is not usually the case that an American media outlet tells the truth about Ukraine, but it appears to have happened here.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Hill committed what may well have been a random act of journalism when it reported that Ukrainian Prosecutor General, Yuriy Lutsenko, told Hill.tv’s reporter John Solomon that the American ambassador to that country, Marie Yovanovitch, gave him a “do not prosecute” list at their first meeting.

Normally, all things Russia are covered by the American press as “bad”, and all things Ukraine are covered by the same as “good.” Yet this report reveals quite a bit about the nature of the deeply embedded US interests that are involved in Ukraine, and which also attempt to control and manipulate policy in the former Soviet republic.

The Hill’s piece continues (with our added emphases):

“Unfortunately, from the first meeting with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, [Yovanovitch] gave me a list of people whom we should not prosecute,” Lutsenko, who took his post in 2016, told Hill.TV last week.

“My response of that is it is inadmissible. Nobody in this country, neither our president nor our parliament nor our ambassador, will stop me from prosecuting whether there is a crime,” he continued.

Indeed, the Prosecutor General appears to be a man of some principles. When this report was brought to the attention of the US State Department, the response was predictable:

The State Department called Lutsenko’s claim of receiving a do not prosecute list, “an outright fabrication.” 

“We have seen reports of the allegations,” a department spokesperson told Hill.TV. “The United States is not currently providing any assistance to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), but did previously attempt to support fundamental justice sector reform, including in the PGO, in the aftermath of the 2014 Revolution of Dignity. When the political will for genuine reform by successive Prosecutors General proved lacking, we exercised our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer and redirected assistance to more productive projects.”

This is an amazing statement in itself. “Our fiduciary responsibility to the American taxpayer”? Are Americans even aware that their country is spending their tax dollars in an effort to manipulate a foreign government in what can probably well be called a low-grade proxy war with the Russian Federation? Again, this appears to be a slip, as most American media do a fair job of maintaining the narrative that Ukraine is completely independent and that its actions regarding the United States and Russia are taken in complete freedom.

Hill.TV has reached out to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine for comment.

Lutsenko also said that he has not received funds amounting to nearly $4 million that the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine was supposed to allocate to his office, saying that “the situation was actually rather strange” and pointing to the fact that the funds were designated, but “never received.”

“At that time we had a case for the embezzlement of the U.S. government technical assistance worth 4 million U.S. dollars, and in that regard, we had this dialogue,” he said. “At that time, [Yovanovitch] thought that our interviews of Ukrainian citizens, of Ukrainian civil servants, who were frequent visitors of the U.S. Embassy put a shadow on that anti-corruption policy.”

“Actually, we got the letter from the U.S. Embassy, from the ambassador, that the money that we are speaking about [was] under full control of the U.S. Embassy, and that the U.S. Embassy did not require our legal assessment of these facts,” he said. “The situation was actually rather strange because the funds we are talking about were designated for the prosecutor general’s office also and we told [them] we have never seen those, and the U.S. Embassy replied there was no problem.”

“The portion of the funds, namely 4.4 million U.S. dollars were designated and were foreseen for the recipient Prosecutor General’s office. But we have never received it,” he said.

Yovanovitch previously served as the U.S. ambassador to Armenia under former presidents Obama and George W. Bush, as well as ambassador to Kyrgyzstan under Bush. She also served as ambassador to Ukraine under Obama.

Former Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who was at the time House Rules Committee chairman, voiced concerns about Yovanovitch in a letter to the State Department last year in which he said he had proof the ambassador had spoken of her “disdain” for the Trump administration.

This last sentence may be a way to try to narrow the scope of American interference in Ukraine down to the shenanigans of just a single person with a personal agenda. However, many who have followed the story of Ukraine and its surge in anti-Russian rhetoric, neo-Naziism, ultra-nationalism, and the most recent events surrounding the creation of a pseudo-Orthodox “church” full of Ukrainian nationalists and atheists as a vehicle to import “Western values” into a still extremely traditional and Christian land, know that there are fingerprints of the United States “deep state” embeds all over this situation.

It is somewhat surprising that so much that reveals the problem showed up in just one report. It will be interesting to see if this gets any follow-up in the US press.

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President Putin’s anti-fake news law is brilliant, but the West makes more

Western media slams President Putin and his fake news law, accusing him of censorship, but an actual look at the law reveals some wisdom.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The TASS Russian News Agency reported on March 18th that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new law intended to block distorted or untrue information being reported as news. Promptly after he did so, Western news organizations began their attempt to “spin” this event as some sort of proof of “state censorship” in the oppressive sense of the old Soviet Union. In other words, a law designed to prevent fake news was used to create more fake news.

One of the lead publications is a news site that is itself ostensibly a “fake news” site. The Moscow Times tries to portray itself as a Russian publication that is conducted from within Russian borders. However, this site and paper is really a Western publication, run by a Dutch foundation located in the Netherlands. As such, the paper and the website associated have a distinctly pro-West slant in their reporting. Even Wikipedia noted this with this comment from their entry about the publication:

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis, The Moscow Times was criticized by a number of journalists including Izvestia columnist Israel Shamir, who in December 2014 called it a “militant anti-Putin paper, a digest of the Western press with extreme bias in covering events in Russia”.[3] In October 2014 The Moscow Times made the decision to suspend online comments after an increase in offensive comments. The paper said it disabled comments for two reasons—it was an inconvenience for its readers as well as being a legal liability, because under Russian law websites are liable for all content, including user-generated content like comments.[14]

This bias is still notably present in what is left of the publication, which is now an online-only news source. This is some of what The Moscow Times had to say about the new fake news legislation:

The bills amending existing information laws overwhelmingly passed both chambers of Russian parliament in less than two months. Observers and some lawmakers have criticized the legislation for its vague language and potential to stifle free speech.

The legislation will establish punishments for spreading information that “exhibits blatant disrespect for the society, government, official government symbols, constitution or governmental bodies of Russia.”

Insulting state symbols and the authorities, including Putin, will carry a fine of up to 300,000 rubles and 15 days in jail for repeat offenses.

As is the case with other Russian laws, the fines are calculated based on whether the offender is a citizen, an official or a legal entity.

More than 100 journalists and public figures, including human rights activist Zoya Svetova and popular writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya, signed a petition opposing the laws, which they labeled “direct censorship.”

This piece does give a bit of explanation from Dmitry Peskov, showing that European countries also have strict laws governing fake news distribution. However, the Times made the point of pointing out the idea of “insulting governmental bodies of Russia… including Putin” to bolster their claim that this law amounts to real censorship of the press. It developed its point of view based on a very short article from Reuters which says even less about the legislation and how it works.

However, TASS goes into rather exhaustive detail about this law, and it also gives rather precise wording on the reason for the law’s passage, as well as how it is to be enforced. This law is brilliant, for it hits the would-be slanderer right where it counts – in the pocketbook.

We include most of this text here, with emphases added:

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a law on blocking untrue and distorting information (fake news). The document was posted on the government’s legal information web portal.

The document supplements the list of information, the access to which may be restricted on the demand by Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies. In particular, it imposes a ban on “untrue publicly significant information disseminated in the media and in the Internet under the guise of true reports, which creates a threat to the life and (or) the health of citizens, property, a threat of the mass violation of public order and (or) public security, or the threat of impeding or halting the functioning of vital infrastructural facilities, transport or social infrastructure, credit institutions, energy, industrial or communications facilities.”

Pursuant to the document, in case of finding such materials in Internet resources registered in accordance with the Russian law on the mass media as an online media resource, Russia’s Prosecutor General or his deputies will request the media watchdog Roskomnadzor to restrict access to the corresponding websites.

Based on this request, Roskomnadzor will immediately notify the editorial board of the online media resource, which is in violation of the legislation, about the need to remove untrue information and the media resource will be required to delete such materials immediately. If the editorial board fails to take the necessary measures, Roskomnadzor will send communications operators “a demand to take measures to restrict access to the online resource.”

In case of deleting such untrue information, the website owner will notify Roskomnadzor thereof, following which the media watchdog will “hold a check into the authenticity of this notice” and immediately inform the communications operator about the resumption of the access to the information resource.
The conditions for the law are very specific, as are the penalties for breaking it. TASS continued:

Liability for breaching the law

Simultaneously, the Federation Council approved the associated law with amendments to Russia’s Code of Administrative Offences, which stipulates liability in the form of penalties of up to 1.5 million rubles (around $23,000) for the spread of untrue and distorting information.

The Code’s new article, “The Abuse of the Freedom of Mass Information,” stipulates liability for disseminating “deliberately untrue publicly significant information” in the media or in the Internet. The penalty will range from 30,000 rubles ($450) to 100,000 rubles ($1,520) for citizens, from 60,000 rubles ($915) to 200,000 rubles ($3,040) for officials and from 200,000 rubles to 500,000 rubles ($7,620) for corporate entities with the possible confiscation of the subject of the administrative offence.

Another element of offence imposes tighter liability for the cases when the publication of false publicly significant information has resulted in the deaths of people, has caused damage to the health or property, prompted the mass violation of public order and security or has caused disruption to the functioning of transport or social infrastructure facilities, communications, energy and industrial facilities and banks. In such instances, the fines will range from 300,000 rubles to 400,000 rubles ($6,090) for citizens, from 600,000 rubles to 900,000 rubles ($13,720) for officials, and from 1 million rubles to 1.5 million rubles for corporate entities.

While this legislation can be spun (and is) in the West as anti-free speech, one may also consider the damage that has taken place in the American government through a relentless attack of fake news from most US news outlets against President Trump. One of the most notable effects of this barrage has been to further degrade and destroy the US’ relationship with the Russian Federation, because even the Helsinki Summit was attacked so badly that the two leaders have not been able to get a second summit together.

While it is certainly a valued right of the American press to be unfettered by Congress, and while it is also certainly vital to criticize improper practices by government officials, the American news agencies have gone far past that, to deliberately dishonest attacks, based in innuendo and everything possible that was formerly only the province of gossip tabloid publications. The effort has been to defame the President, not to give proper or due criticism to his policies, nor credit. It can be properly stated that the American press has abused its freedom of late.

This level of abuse drew a very unusual comment from the US president, who wondered on Twitter about the possibility of creating a state-run media center in the US to counter fake news:

Politically correct for US audiences? No. But an astute point?

Definitely.

Freedom in anything also presumes that those with that freedom respect it, and further, that they respect and apply the principle that slandering people and institutions for one’s own personal, business or political gain is wrong. Implied in the US Constitution’s protection of the press is the notion that the press itself, as the rest of the country, is accountable to a much Higher Authority than the State. But when that Authority is rejected, as so much present evidence suggests, then freedom becomes the freedom to misbehave and to agitate. It appears largely within this context that the Russian law exists, based on the text given.

Further, by hitting dishonest media outlets in their pocketbook, rather than prison sentences, the law appears to be very smart in its message: “Do not lie. If you do, you will suffer where it counts most.”

Considering that news media’s purpose is to make money, this may actually be a very smart piece of legislation.

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