Sunday, July 22, 2018

Demography Being Abused in Russian Pension Age Debate, Vishnevsky Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Both supporters and opponents of the Russian government’s plan to raise retirement ages frequently invoke demographic statistics; but all too often, Anatoly Vishnevsky of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, they use these figures incorrectly and thus make it more difficult for Russia to solve some of its problems.

            In a comment for Demoscope, he demographer points to two areas where the problems are especially great: discussions of the link between pension age and life expectancy and arguments about the demographic burden the elderly (and the young) place on working-age cohorts (demoscope.ru/weekly/2018/0775/expertise.php).

            “One of the chief arguments in favor of raising the pension age is that the current pension age was set in the early 1930s and does not correspond to the present-day level of life expectancy,” Vishnevsky says. This argument is frequently invoked but it is “based on an incorrect understanding of ‘life expectancy.’”

            Life expectancy figures usually are the number of years people will live from birth; and in those terms, Russia has made significant progress over the last century by reducing infant mortality.  But when it comes to pension ages, the relevant figure is the life expectancies of those who have reached that year. 

            And there Russia has made little progress, at least compared to other advanced countries. Since the 1920s, the average Russian man at age 60 can expect to live only 1.6 years longer than did his counterpart 90 years ago.  That means that if the pension age is increased to 65, he will live in retirement 2.5 years LESS than his counterpart in 1965 would have.

            The situation with regard to women is even worse. If their retirement age is boosted as planned, they will live on pensions 2.7 years less than their predecessors did in 1965. If Russia could boost these life expectancies before the reform was fully in place, that would be one thing – but achieving significant increases is “utopian” – and everyone should admit that.

            The second demographic argument Vishnevsky addresses is the burden that non-workers place on the working-age population.  There the arguments of supporters of raising the pension age are stronger; but, and this is important, they are placing all the burden on resolving this problem on the shoulders of pensioners and potential pensioners.

            “The real relationship of the number of working and non-working people depends of course not only on demographic but on economic and social factors,” Vishnevsky says. The demographic ones are “very important” and can as is the case with Russia make solving the entire problem far more difficult.

            In Russia today, he continues, “structural demographic changes which it is practically impossible to influence are beginning to have an unfavorable impact on the economy and social life of the country and this is becoming a serious challenge for Russian society.” In this, Russia is hardly alone: many countries face this problem.

            But Russia today is almost unique in the way in which politicians and journalists have acted as if this problem suddenly appeared, grew enormous and must be dealt with via extreme measures.  None of those things is true, the demographer argues.  And a more gradual approach is thus more likely to be effective.

            A major reason so many Russian political figures get this wrong, he says, is that in the 1990s, as a result of the echo from World War II, Russia had one of the lowest non-working to working burdens in the world. Since then, things have changed; and some have acted as if this problem dropped from the sky rather than being one experts saw coming a long time ago.

            Radically raising the retirement age won’t solve this problem; that will require a far more complex approach, Vishnevsky says. And coming up with one will require a serious effort because “the growth of the demographic burden is only beginning.”

            The current short-term fix on offer “will solve nothing,” he says. Moreover, it “will generate social tensions and in the final analysis can lead the social situation in the country into a dead end out of which it will be very difficult to escape.”

For First Time since 1999, James Bond Will Go Up Against a Russian: Moscow’s Hybrid Response


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – For the first time since 1999, the next James Bond movie will have a Russian as 007’s antagonist, according to the British press. The producers of the latest in the series of Bond Films are currently looking for someone to play the part who is “from Russia or the Balkans” (lenta.ru/news/2018/07/19/jbond/).

            During the Cold War, the Soviets were a reliable enemy in Hollywood films not only about spy wars but also in other genres as well, a pattern that once violated after 1991 sometimes led to improbable and absurd searches of an “enemy” country, such as happened when the producers of The Might Ducks – Two made the squad from Iceland into the heavies.

            In the 1990s, it was no longer politically correct to show the Russians in the role of heavies in movies about political or military themes; but the rise of the Russian criminal world meant that Hollywood movies often featured characters from that world as adversaries of police forces in the West.

            Russians are not pleased but not at all surprised by this latest Bond development. Moscow political analyst Aleksey Makarkin tells Slovo i delo that it appears that the film producers have decided that most Americans want to see Russians as enemies (slovodel.com/512233-ekspert-obyasnil-pochemu-v-novom-filme-dzheims-bond-budet-borotsya-s-russkim-zlodeem).

                There are Americans who “sympathize with Russia,” he says, “but their influence on the public sphere is not that great.” Therefore, Makarkin continues, he “doesn’t think that the film will generate any protests in the West,” however much Russians may not like being cast once again as enemies.

            But Moscow appears to have come up what can, in the age of Putin, best be described as a hybrid response.  Robbin Young, a Bond girl in an earlier film, told the British press that she has sent intimate photographers of herself to the hacker Guccifer 2.0 (versia.ru/devushka-bonda-vlyubilas-v-russkix-xakerov-i-otpravila-im-svoi-intimnye-foto).

            She says she was “in shock” when she discovered that her online correspondent wasn’t a gentleman from Romania as she had thought but rather a group of 12 hackers who have just been named in an indictment by the United States for their work to destabilize the American political system.

            The actress says that she is devastated by all this. 

Who’s Most at Risk of Attack by Long Arm of Putin’s Siloviki? Kirillova Provides a Typology


Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – One of the reasons Vladimir Putin and his regime are able to get away with so many of their crimes is that many in both Russia and the West tend to treat each one as unique rather than see the linkages that exist among them, be it subversion of other countries or even violence against opponents.

            That makes a typology US-based Russian journalist Kseniya Kirillova offers today on who in Russia or abroad is most at risk of being killed by the agents of the Kremlin, a typology that she admits is incomplete but one that nonetheless does provide the basis for a better understanding of Putin’s operational code (svoboda.org/a/29356876.html).

                The first category of people at high risk of being attacked by Putin’s agents are “turncoats,” people who have worked in the special services, the state bureaucracy, its propaganda arms, and thus someone assumed to have information that could be dangerous to the Kremlin, the Russian analyst says.

            If this desertion has attracted a great deal of attention, she continues, “the murderers will try in every possible way to show that their revenge can reach ‘the traitor’ even years later.”

            A second category of targets are journalists, bloggers or activists who have sharply criticized Russian foreign policy and “Vladimir Putin personally.”  The level of risk within this group depends both on where an individual is located and just how categorical these commentaries are.

            Those who live in Russia are thus most at risk; those in Ukraine somewhat less; and those in Western countries, while still real targets, are less likely to be attacked except in extreme cases.

            These attacks, Kirillova says, may be delivered both by Russian siloviki in office and also by those who have been mobilized as adjuncts to them.  In some cases, the latter is a greater threat. “The risk of beating is somewhat higher than that of murder, but that isn’t a reason for not taking the threat seriously.”

            A third category, the analyst says, includes those who work to expose “links of Russian or foreign politicians with the Russian mafia, compile evidence of the international crimes of Russia, expose offshore accounts” of Russian oligarchs and all such similar activities.

            “Even if you do not exert significant influence on public opinion, aren’t popular and aren’t too sharp in your formulations,” Kirillova suggests, “you also are in the zone of heightened risk which is directly proportional to the influence your work has on the objects of your investigations.”

                The existence of such threats, of course, “doesn’t mean that you should stop your efforts. More than that, their continuation may be at times the only morally correct choice. However such a choice must be conscious and if you live in a civilized country it is possible to inform the authorities about your situation.”

            And a fourth category of people at heightened risk, Kirillova argues, are those who focus on corruption at lower levels of the Russian system.  On the one hand, those who do may in some cases help the Kremlin stage one of its unmaskings of corruption to win popular support. But on the other, regional and local officials may be able to orchestrate their own revenge.

            Indeed, such researchers may find themselves caught in struggles among Kremlin insiders and that may increase their risk of attack even more.  Only one conclusion is possible, she says: “to be an opposition figure or simply an honest journalist in Russia is dangerous, and at times this danger may reach out to people even beyond the borders of the country.”