Putting Shine on Shite: Grad Students Karlin, Adomanis

Only hard-line patriots never think of leaving. “There is no feeling that life is improving,” says Dmitry Oreshkin, a senior political researcher at Moscow’s Institute of Geography.

… A host of failures by the current Kremlin administration is responsible for the exodus of Russia’s most promising and capable talents. The nation’s education system, for all its ideological rigidity, used to be one of the world’s best. But since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the system has declined. __Leaving Russia

Mark Adomanis and Anatoly Karlin are highly prolific grad students, working long hours to put a shine on a rapidly decaying former empire, Russia. Their latest efforts are oriented toward reassuring Russian sympathizers in the west that Russia is “not a dying bear after all.”

Karlin’s latest attempt (h/t Dennis Mangan) to reassure readers that Russia is “back on track to a normalised demographic trend,” is full of graphs and rich in polemics but very short on solid data. Here is more informed commentary from Sergei Zakharov, a demography specialist at the National Research University—Higher School of Economics:

… the population gains are likely to be short-lived. “In the next 10-20 years we will have an enormous decrease in the number of potential mothers and fathers,” he says. “There’s a very small cohort approaching reproductive age.” Young women born in the immediate post-Communist period of the early 1990s are starting to have babies of their own, but there simply aren’t that many of them.

… Most of the big recent increases in fertility have been in rural areas where the birthrate was already relatively high. In the remote Central Asian region of Tuva [majority non-Russian], the birthrate is about five children per woman—comparable to that of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Zakharov notes—but most families in Russia’s large cities are still sticking with one or two kids. For one thing, $11,000 isn’t going to get you very far in cities as expensive as Moscow and St. Petersburg. _Slate

It is not ethnic Russians who are responsible for the slight, temporary uptick in Russian fertility. It is necessary to break the Russian population down by ethnicity to get a better idea of what is actually happening:

ethnic Muslims account for 21-23 million of Russia’s total population of 144 million, or 15 percent, but their proportion is fast growing. Alcoholism-plagued ethnic Russians are said to have European birth rates and African death rates, with the former just 1.4 per woman and the latter 60 years for men. In Moscow, ethnic Christian women have 1.1 child.

In contrast, Muslim women bear 2.3 children on average and have fewer abortions than their Russian counterparts. In Moscow, Tatar women have 6 children and Chechen and Ingush women have 10. In addition, some 3-4 million Muslims have moved to Russia from ex-republics of the U.S.S.R., mainly from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan; and some ethnic Russians are converting to Islam. __Oct 21, 2013 Muslim Russia

Russophile grad. students can be very passionate about their beliefs, and one cannot blame them for their passion. But it is necessary to view a better-rounded and more complete display of the data than these grad students are willing to provide.

Eighty-six percent of companies in Russia experience a deficit of qualified personnel, according to a study by Antal Russia. The June 2012 poll was based on information gathered from 200 companies.

Technical specialists, qualified retail workers, engineers and IT staff are the hardest to find. This shortage of qualified workers is expected to worsen in 10 to 15 years as Russia’s demographics show fewer people of working age.
__Everyone Has Gone Away

Brain drain has long been a problem in Russia, and the problem is once again growing critical since Putin’s violent acting-out in Eastern Europe.

Russia’s population pyramid displays the Russian population by age cohorts.

It is the deep notching of the youth cohort part of the pyramid which has Russian demographers worried about the future of Russian demographics between now and 2050.

Recently, Russia has been able to slow some of its ominous demographic trends via immigration from predominantly Muslim regions. But will that approach be enough? Certainly Muslim women can be much more prolific at child-bearing than ethnic Russian women. But can the cultural gulf be surmounted in a rising age of Russian xenophobia?

Meanwhile a number of public health concerns remain to be mitigated by Russian authorities, and probably never will be:

Russia and China are world leaders in smoking, but while in Russia women are heavy smokers by world standards only 2% of Chinese women smoke. It is estimated that between 350,000 and 400,000 people die each year in Russia due to smoking-related diseases.

Alcohol consumption continues to be extremely high, despite some government efforts to curb it. Each year, 500,000 Russians die because of alcohol-related illnesses, accidents and crimes. In addition, it is estimated that more than 10 million children aged 10 to 14 drink alcohol.

According to World Health Organization statistics heart disease, aggravated by alcoholism and tobacco accounts for more than 1.2 million deaths every year. HIV/AIDS is a continuing concern, particularly because 80% of those HIV-infected are under the age of 30, and the epidemic is closely associated with high rates of intravenous drug use.

Furthermore, many experts believe that Russia has one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world, with new cases doubling every year. Harm-reduction programmes have not yet been able to control the epidemic.

… Russian leaders have to confront a wide range of problems that affect Russians’ health status and quality of life, and that require a multifaceted but coordinated approach to be solved. How the Russian authorities respond to these challenges will determine the kind of country that Russia will become. __Demography and Public Health Problems in Russia

Wishful thinkers want to believe that Russia has magically turned a corner and is now emerging into a golden future. Somewhat duplicitous grad students may be partially responsible for this misapprehension, but it also helps if people want to believe in unsupportable delusions to begin with.

Russia has not collapsed. Yet. That fact is a slim basis for the jaunty bravado coming from Karlin, and to a lesser degree from Adomanis. But that is really all that they can say, when one distills the essence of their brave writings. The USSR took time to decay and collapse, as did the Tsarist Empire. Some nations are dead and simply do not know it yet.

Most professional Russians still living in Russia either want to leave Russia, or are giving the idea some thought.

“Conversations these days start and end with the topic of emigration,” says Masha Gessen, a journalist and author of the Putin biography The Man Without a Face. “Where are you going? Should we all go together? Israel, Australia, America, Britain, Western Europe … What is the first step? What, you have not made plans yet? Do you at least have a valid visa? This is the banter with which people sit down for supper,” she says.

Only hard-line patriots never think of leaving. “There is no feeling that life is improving,” says Dmitry Oreshkin, a senior political researcher at Moscow’s Institute of Geography. “In the 1990s, there was a feeling of democracy, [a hope] that Russia was becoming a normal European country. But now it’s different. There is more potential for the individual in the West.” A recent Moscow State Pedagogical University poll shows that 80 percent of graduates of elite Moscow high schools would like to study abroad, at least temporarily. Another poll by Russian newspaper Rossiskaya Gazeta claims that only 9 percent of parents say their children will continue to study in Russia and almost 70 percent of parents would like their children to study and work abroad.

… Corruption and poor law enforcement are also large factors in pushing professionals out of Russia. Even Skolkovo became embroiled in a fraud scandal in February when news broke of an investigation into an embezzlement scheme involving the financial director of the innovation hub’s fund. Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Corruption Index ranks Russia 133rd out 174 countries and found that extortion by officials is an increasingly common form of graft. A small-time official with a few connections or rubles can influence the police or the courts to force individuals to hand over half their shares in a business.

… The fundamental question is how long can the Russian system run by Putin and old-line apparatchiki keep failing and remain viable? Putin and his supporters must address the core problems of graft, inefficient justice, health care, housing, and education systems… If the brain drain cripples Russia’s economy, unrest will spread, and Putin will fall. __Leaving Russia, In My Mind

Brain drain, womb drain, capital flight, and wide-spread internal malaise were all common even before Putin began to threaten Europe with a wider conventional and nuclear war. Now that Putin is off the rails, and the price of oil has slumped, internal sentiment is set to move further toward getting out while the getting is good.

“We don’t see a future for us here,” says Nadezhda. “Once a military and industrial giant, our country today is reduced to a raw material appendage to other economic powerhouses. Look at our shops: You won’t find any goods made in Russia. Our well-being depends on the price of oil and on decisions taken by politicians and economists in other countries. We don’t feel we are needed here.”

… Professor Anatoly Vishnevsky of the Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics has estimated that more than 1,00,000 researchers with academic degrees had left Russia over the past two decades and the outflow continues.

Some of the best Russian universities today serve as a free source of talent for foreign laboratories. Seventy per cent of students at Novosibirsk State University plan to leave the country after they get their degree, according to research conducted by the Novosibirsk branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. __ Russia No Place to Live

A cause of death rankings comparison between Russia and US demonstrates the significant gap in death rates in specific areas between the two countries. Smoking abuse and alcoholism explain much of the difference, but not all. Such trends do not change overnight. If statistics “reveal” an abrupt transition, it is more likely that the statistics themselves are being tweaked for political purposes. Note the 2,356,309 excess Russian deaths (adjusted for population comparison).

Click Country Link To Compare
Cause Of Death Rank Deaths Rank Deaths Summary
Coronary Heart Disease 1 1,467,827 1 445,864 + 1,021,963
Stroke 2 1,001,484 4 146,664 + 854,820
Other Injuries 3 166,943 21 25,827 + 141,116
Lung Cancers 4 114,151 3 165,402 51,251
Poisonings 5 111,126 20 29,473 + 81,653
HIV/AIDS 6 100,187 34 11,630 + 88,557
Liver Disease 7 96,493 19 30,027 + 66,466
Stomach Cancer 8 89,353 31 13,230 + 76,123
Colon-Rectum Cancers 9 89,197 7 62,592 + 26,605
Suicide 10 85,698 15 35,441 + 50,257
Population = USA Total
+ 2,356,309

Note: Population is Equalized


Lung cancer is the only category in the above table for which “adjusted deaths” in the US exceed deaths in Russia. The category bears watching, given the unbelievably high rates of smoking among Russia’s young — both males and females.

In the 1990s and early 2000s Russia made a concerted effort to make public health and economic data more transparent. But understandably over the past few years, all sensitive information in Russia comes under the supervision and control of the intelligence and propaganda apparatus — much as the Russian internet is being taken over by the same entities.

At the same time, the public health infrastructure of Russia is being allowed to languish, while increasingly scarce hard assets are being lavished upon the state propaganda, intelligence, and disinformation machines.

There is no magical turnaround or cure for the things that ail today’s Russia. Earnest grad students and slick propaganda outlets naturally make claims that cannot be reliably tested, because the data is being held prisoner by careful state overseers, only being brought out after careful dressing and “coaching.”

This 68 pp PDF document from the US CDC compares Russian and US maternal child health care vital and health statistics between the years 1985 and 1995 — providing an interesting “bridge” across the Soviet and post-Soviet divide.


If you scroll down and read between the lines, you can find some interesting information at Wikipedia for Russian Demographics. Always keep in mind that reporting in Russia can be sketchy for data considered sensitive to national security.

Interesting historical insight into Russia’s propaganda / secret police traditions

The “Ghosting” of Moscow City

Every nation has its ups and downs, and Russia is no exception. As long as global oil prices remained above certain levels, apparatchiks could easily paint gloss and glitz over an ugly underlying reality. With lower oil prices, the Kremlin is forced to dip deeply into cash reserves, with a concomitant reduction in payouts to corrupt cronies. Other than select military, intelligence, and propaganda arms of the government, Russia’s critical infrastructures are being neglected. And there is a limit to what fellow traveling grad students and glossy websites and propaganda outlets can do to obscure the entirety of decay.

As we have pointed out before, Putin needs higher oil prices in order to pay off the internal parasites and to maintain the Potemkin facade over an increasingly ugly and malodorous reality. But he has tried most of the things that worked in the past, and failed — so far. In fact, the things Putin has done in an effort to raise global oil prices have only made Russia’s predicament worse.

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11 Responses to Putting Shine on Shite: Grad Students Karlin, Adomanis

  1. Just out of curiosity, what would you suggest our national strategy versus Russia should be? From your constant pointing out how doomed the Russkies are, one would think it would merely be just waiting them out as they fall.

    Or, are you suggesting we bug them the way Nuland and Pyatt want to? Maybe you are suggesting a war?

    What is your endgame?

  2. alfin2101 says:

    The important thing is to avoid over-reacting to Putin’s posturing — in either direction. In many areas of life, “watchful waiting” is the most appropriate default position, unless a developing pattern of events dictates otherwise.

    If someone threatens to run you down and beat you to death, knowing that they are quadriplegic and suffer from end-stage lung and heart disease may assuage some of your concerns, and allow you to deal more intelligently with the situation.

    Russia is slashing its public health budget, while boosting its propaganda, military, and spy budgets (including cyber-war) significantly — in the middle of a serious economic downturn. People in Moscow are marching over the health care cuts, but what other important budgetary cuts are not receiving much attention?

    A recent look at Russian media:


    The Kremlin is afraid of people exchanging information. Would you want to live in Russia? I maintain that anyone who strongly defends Putin or modern Russia should move to Moscow or St. Petersburg and start a business, and put down his roots. Display the strength of personal conviction that internet readers so admire. 😉 And try to stay alive.

  3. jabowery says:

    Given a sufficiently severe oil shock Russia could collapse. What would be the likely outcome of that?

    • alfin2101 says:

      It depends upon what you mean by “Russia collapsing.” One might say that “Russia collapsed” when the Tsarist government fell, or it collapsed in 1991 when the USSR fell.

      There is no “second team” in Russia to take up the slack if the first team is taken out.

      China would certainly play an important role in the aftermath of a Russian collapse, at least in the Russian far east.

      Unfortunately for ordinary Russians, such instability in their governments is a natural outgrowth of their attraction to autocrats, and their inability to rule themselves in a non-autocratic manner. Vodka is the state religion, and belligerent kossack is the national disposition. There is nothing of substance around which a free society could orbit, other than a fictional concept of “mother Russia.” And that tenuous concept cannot take much testing outside of harsh top-down rule, such as under Stalin, under gunpoint.

      Russia is due for transformation. The likely outcome or consequences will depend upon the nature of that transformation.

  4. Jim says:

    As bad as the situation in Russia may be I think Russia and Russians will still be around at the end of the 21st century. Russia may be reduced to it’s taiga heartland and not much of a world power but it will probably endure.

    The US will be gone long before the end of this century and Western Civilization will have ceased to exist in what is now Western Europe.

  5. Jim says:

    I think it is idiotic of us to get involved in the Ukraine. Why should I as a white American give a flying fuck about Russia’s “conquest” of the Crimea? Hostility toward Russia is driven by the hatred of Jewish neocons towards the land in which their ancestors were persecuted. I’m not Jewish so I don’t give a fiuck about what was done to their ancestors.

  6. Десвидомизация says:

    Someone who quotes Gessen cannot be taken seriously. By the way Tuva is predominantly Buddhist, not Muslim.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Thanks for the demographic update on Tuva. Fascinating!

      As for your gratuitous ad hominem, you should try not to sound so much like a Kremlin troll. ;o( Try for a rational argument next time.

      • Десвидомизация says:

        What’s a Kremlin troll anyway?

        • alfin2101 says:

          Someone who is paid to spread agitprop on the web. This is too small a website to attract them, generally, but they are quite prolific on more active forums.

          • Десвидомизация says:

            The problem is that a Kremlin troll is a myth. There is simply a substantial number of pro-Russian individuals out there. The Kremlin does not pay anyone to spread agitprop online.

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