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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Economy, Statistics and Figure Skaters

In response to "The Russian Success Story," a comment by Anders Åslund on Feb. 7.

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Thank you for publishing the illustrative letter by Robert Daniels. Let me briefly clarify a few facts:

The Russian parliamentary elections in March 1990 were not fully democratic because they did not allow parties and proper information about the candidates, thereby facilitating the haphazard election of many junior party officials. They were only legitimate in some big cities.

In Russia's first reasonably democratic elections in June 1991, Boris Yeltsin was elected as its president with a majority of 58 percent of the votes cast. His democratic legitimacy was reconfirmed in the referendum on April 25, 1993. Neither the Russian Congress of People's Deputies nor the Soviet Constitution ever acquired any democratic credentials.

The Communist Party brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union and its economy. Rampant inflation, caused by the uncontrolled issuing of money, began under communist rule. Price liberalization only transformed repressed inflation into open inflation.

GDP was in free fall when the democrats took over. The GDP decline after communism has been greatly exaggerated by official statistics, as the unmeasured share of the economy has risen while output measures under communism ignored value detraction and waste. Standards of living fell even less while a great redistribution has occurred.

Soviet agriculture was nothing but disastrous, causing mass starvation and requiring huge food imports. Post-communist Russia's agriculture has suffered from minimal privatization and little marketization because of effective communist resistance.

Authoritarian backsliding has occurred in post-communist countries where economic reform and privatization have been slow. Belarus today shows the direction that Russia realistically could have gone. The correlation between democratization, marketization and privatization is very strong in the former Soviet bloc.

Since 1998 Russia has undertaken impressive economic reforms, balanced its budget and sharply reduced barter, enterprise subsidies and taxes. As any market-oriented economist would expect, this has led to substantial economic growth.

Anders Åslund
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

In response to a letter from Eugene Leonenko on Feb. 15 responding to "The Russian Success Story," a comment by Anders Åslund on Feb. 7.


Like Eugene Leonenko, I was pleasantly surprised to read a positive article on the developments in Russia over the last 10 years. As a "normal" person who happens to have "ordinary" friends in Russia, whom I have visited from Soviet times through the political and economic upheavals and up to the present day, I can only testify that now when I pack my bag to travel to Russia I do as I would to London or Paris -- I pack my seasonal clothes, reading material and nothing else. Previously, two-thirds of may suitcase was taken up with material goods my friends would need or that I might need in case of emergency. When I go now I don't worry about cash -- I can just go to an ATM. I can also plan my trips around cultural events, the schedules of which I easily access on the internet. I've also attended ballet classes open to the general public no matter who or where you come from. I'm not particularly privileged -- I only travel by metro or walk -- nor are any of my "new Russian" friends. They don't even own a car. But if I brought them clothes, food or toys for their children today like I did earlier they would be insulted. These are facts of everyday life that I think foreign critics who only read articles and reports never experience. It's a pity.

Martha Messina
Zurich, Switzerland

In response to "The Russian Success Story," a comment by Anders Åslund on Feb. 7.


If Anders Åslund really believes some of the things he writes, I suggest he read some of the articles by the Moskovsky Komsomolets columnist Aleksandr Budberg. Since Budberg has long been in tune with ?slund's friend and soul mate Anatoly Chubais, his opinions should, one presumes, carry weight in ?slund's eyes.

If, for example, Åslund truly believes the remarkable judgment with which he rounded off his recent article, namely that "Russia is a country that solves its problems with an efficacy and speed that the West can only envy," then he might want to ponder Budberg's insistent arguments that, in effect, the opposite is true.

In Budberg's and my view, one of the worst problems President Vladimir Putin faces is the subversion of the loyalty of key bureaucrats by Russia's magnates. Budberg sees this corrupt magnate-bureaucrat relationship as an "absolutely intolerable" one that has existed for years.

After referring to concrete examples, Budberg describes high officials of the police, the general prosecutor's office and the courts as repeatedly changing their positions during cases depending on how they are bribed and counter-bribed by oligarchs and financial-industrial groups. Only these individuals and groups, he says, "have the resources to hire whole departments of the justice system."

Finally, Budberg focuses on the fact that senior bureaucrats often do not stop at hiring themselves out to perform specific acts for other people. Rather, "as before, they actively participate in the battles for property" themselves.

The contrast between these sober, reasoned judgments and ?slund's pie-in-the-sky could hardly be more stark.

Peter Reddaway
George Washington University

Statistical Clarification

In response to "Goskomstat Rewrites Economic History," an article by Valeria Korchagina on Feb. 19.


I was surprised to read as front-page news that Goskomstat "rewrote economic history" by increasing 1999 GDP growth retroactively by 54 percent; and more surprised to find myself quoted in this article.

It deserves to be clarified that this claim is based on false premises. Goskomstat did not, by increasing GDP growth for 1999 from 3.5 to 5.4 percent, all of a sudden revise growth data that are more than three years old. Rather, GDP growth for 1999 has, in Goskomstat's own statistical publications, been put at 5.4 percent consistently since March 2001, and has not been revised since. At the World Bank, we have taken this figure seriously enough for our publications to show the 5.4 percent growth rate since this latest revision.

Therefore, neither I nor any of my colleagues would have reason to publicly support the claim that economic history had been "rewritten."

I can not say whether, as stated in the article, someone from Goskomstat originally stated that such an adjustment has taken place now. But they do take place at regular intervals and it seems to me that the story published in The Moscow Times throws an undeservedly bad light on Russia's statistical agency. As this is taken up by people abroad, I would think it appropriate to correct this impression.

Christof Rühl
Chief economist for Russia
World Bank

Editor's note: The following is a selection from several dozen letters received regarding the Olympic pairs figure skating.


In response to "2nd Gold Leaves Russians a Bit Cold," an article on Feb. 18.


Russians should count themselves lucky that the Canadian Olympic delegation offered the International Olympic Committee and International Skating Union a face-saving way out of this mess -- a double gold medal. Given the evidence, in writing, by seven witnesses who heard the French judge say she was pressured by her Olympic association to vote for the Russian skaters, it should be apparent the Russian pair should have their gold medals stripped. Had Canada pressed its case more firmly in a court of arbitration later in the week, that is exactly what would have happened. The vote of the French judge should have been suspended, and under the ISU's own rules, the vote of the alternate Czech judge should have decided the event. That would have resulted in Canadian gold. Instead of finding ways to wail about how they were robbed, Russians should instead wonder how legitimate their 40 years of Olympic pairs skating dominance has really been.

Rick Charlton
Alberta, Canada

No Injustice


It seems many Russians feel as though Canadian pairs figure skaters Sale and Pelletier received duplicate gold medals only because of North American media attention. But in the articles and editorials I have read in your newspaper, you neglect to shed appropriate light on the true reason for this attention: the corrupt judging of the French figure skating judge. You suggest that the Canadian pair should have simply accepted the decision of the judges, but is this because you believe that cheating is okay and should be accepted in an Olympic sport? Regardless of which pair truly skated better, the marks of the French judge had to be discounted because she admitted to having been pressured to vote for the Russians. With her marks discounted, the Canadian and Russian pairs would have tied. Therefore, no injustice has been served to Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, who maintain their gold medals despite the corrupt judging which possibly awarded them. Even if the International Olympic Committee did only make the decision due to media pressure, at least they made the right decision to state they would not allow cheating at the Olympic Games.

Jennifer Wiley
Calgary, Alberta

Russia Simply the Best


I have no control over the U.S. or Canadian press. But even so, I would like to apologize to the Russian people for the abominable press coverage of the figure-skating finals for pairs at the Olympic Games. Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were graceful, romantic and inspiring. They definitely skated a more difficult, and artistic, routine. I thought the Canadian pair was smug and arrogant, and their program was designed to play it safe and minimize the chance for technical errors.

Scott Hamilton thought he was so smart while announcing the finals that he felt he knew more than all the judges put together. Even before the Canadians skated he declared them the winners. All during their routine he kept repeating it.

Then rather than admit that his conclusions were premature he just fed the fires of controversy.

I just want to sound off that many of us here in the United States can appreciate the dominance of pairs in recent decades by Russia because we know excellence when we see it. I also took notice that the Canadian judge gave the Russian pair their lowest score for presentation. The Canadian press failed to mention that.

Jack Walker
Mishawaka, Indiana


Contrary to what many Russians may believe, many of us Americans know the Russian ice skating pair was cheated out of being No. 1 because of the continued whining of the Canadians. It is utterly ridiculous to award the Canadian pair a gold medal. They may be the best in the world, but they were not the best on the ice that day in Salt Lake City. The Russians were.

If I were one of the Canadians given the gold medal I would be ashamed. It is truly a fiasco.

Randy Willis

Money Is an Issue


For those who criticize the potential financial gain our pairs may benefit from, welcome to a free-market economy. Yes, money is always an issue (as opposed to Russia, where I'm sure money and politics never play a role). The simple fact is, on that night, at that moment, Sale and Pelletier were better.

Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze were inspiring and wonderful. They were, however, not the best. The grace with which all these athletes faced controversy not of their making should be a lesson to us all. Neither Sale, Pelletier, Berezhnaya, Sikharulidze nor the Russian or Canadian people have any apologies to make. The International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee, however, have houses to clean. I hope that in the future no athlete is subjected to this kind of spectacle. I applaud the Russian pairs team and the Russian people for the class and sportsmanship they have displayed throughout this unfortunate event.

Liane Tackaberry
Ontario, Canada

Mafia Not to Blame

In response to "Panning For Golden TV Ratings," an editorial on Feb. 18, and a letter by Stephan Harnois published on Feb. 15.


I agree with your editorial regarding the gold metal scandal. On the positive side there are now millions more people watching skating than there were before the scandal, which will mean more recognition to Yelena and Anton as well the Canadian skaters.

You had another opinion voiced in a letter by a fellow Canadian regarding the mafia's involvement which I disagree with. If one is to place blame anywhere, it could possibly be with the skating associations of the various countries.

My best wishes to Yelena and Anton for their futures, I enjoy watching them skate.

Percy Cox
British Columbia, Canada

Bad Sport

In response to a letter by Stephan Harnois published on Feb. 15.


With reference to the letter by Stephan Harnois, I would say: If you lose a competition, behave properly and do not be a bad sport.

Last year, in Vancouver, when Canadians won the world championship nobody filed any complaints accusing anyone of bribing or pressure. Why does Harnois think so badly of Russians? Are he and others trained figure skating judges?

Do they know about emotion and artistic performance? Or do they just judge on the quantity of jumps and combinations.

I found this letter very offensive.

Vladimir Markov
Mitsubishi Corporation