Saturday, January 27, 2018

Playing Games with Statistics Key Part of Putin’s Good News Offensive, Shelin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 26 – In order to build up support for Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin is conducting a good news offensive in the media, something that will only intensify as the date of the presidential election approaches, Sergey Shelin says. And a major part of that drive will involve playing games with statistics.

            Last week, the Rosbalt commentator notes, “almost all major media outlets, official and not very, within a few days in a synchronous fashion reported in rapturous fashion” the news that over the first 11 months of 2017, Russian exports of non-raw materials and non-energy goods rose 20.8 percent from a year earlier (

                Not only did the requirements of politics require officials to report these figures after 11 months rather than after the yearly figures come it, Shelin continues, but those same demands led officials to present as “a triumph” something that was anything but – something that becomes obvious if one looks at the figures compiled by the Russian Export Center.

            That institution’s numbers show that in 2012, Russian exports of this kind were valued at 144 billion US dollars. In 2013, they fell to 142 billion; in 2014, to 138 billion; and in 2016, to 109 billion.  That is between 2012 and 2016, they fell by just under a third. In 2017, this figure stood at 116 billion.

                That is seven billion US dollars and a five percent increase over 2016, but it is a decline of 28 billion US dollars and more than 20 percent compared to 2012.  That is just one of the ways Russian politicians are using statistics to suggest a real recovery when in fact there hasn’t been one.

            Two others are equally worthy of note, Shelin says. On the one hand, Moscow counts under non-raw materials and non-energy exports many things others do not, including partially processed metals, grains, and so on. If those are excluded, he continues, Russia’s exports of manufactured goods last year amounted to “less than 50 billion US dollars.”

            And on the other, even if one accepts Moscow’s categories, Russia is far behind not just China or Germany but even behind both in absolute terms and growth of other countries with much smaller economies overall such as Taiwan which exported 345 billion US dollars last year, an 11 percent rise, or Poland, with exports in this category of 221 billion, a 14 percent rise.

            Unfortunately, “many other such triumphs are going to be constructed before March 18,” Shelin says, “only to be immediately forgotten when they are no longer needed and exceed their ‘use by’ date.”

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