Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Russian News: No Crisis Here!

Russia's foreign-exchange reserves have been now been declining very rapidly since mid August, and as the money goes so does the faith that the large stock of reserves the country built up during the boom times would be sufficient to see them through any downturn in energy prices. As the money leaves, so it seems does the decade of economic growth and stability which they symbolised. Indeed so rapid has been the decline that Russia's international reserves, which are the third-biggest after those of China and Japan, have now fallen $161 billion, or 27% percent, since 8 August last, and decreased by $17.9 billion to $437 billion in the week to 5 December. Investors have now pulled $211 billion out of the country since August, according to estimates by BNP Paribas.

Read about the economic news at Global Economy Matters. It's pretty dire.

However, if you are Russian, don't write about it, because...

When a Russian sociologist wrote a newspaper column last month suggesting the global financial crisis could cause social unrest, the state media watchdog advised the paper not to spread extremist sentiments.

"This is censorship," said Yevgeny Gontmakher, the author of the column and the head of the Academy of Science's Social Policy Center. "The situation in the country is changing; you can no longer utter the word 'crisis'."

The financial crisis is presenting Russia's ruling elite with the most serious challenge to its power in a decade. The Kremlin has responded by offering a bailout package and economic stimulus measures between them worth over $200 billion.

But journalists and critics say the Kremlin has deployed another weapon too: using its grip on the media to try to prevent ordinary people from finding out how bad things really are.

It comes from the top, via the meetings the top editors have with the government and the Kremlin," said the reporter, asking not to be named because he feared he could lose his job if he spoke publicly on the issue.

"The reasoning is to prevent panic from spreading inside Russia. We can still report on the crisis but we have to be very careful of how we term things, so it is a way of reporting rather than an outright ban."

At the end of last week Russia's chief macroeconomic planner was overruled by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin after saying Russia was already in a recession. Within hours, Putin told a different story, trumpeting growth of around 6 percent for 2008 and predicting Russia would weather the financial storm.

More here.

However, one of the saddest parts of teh article is...

One senior foreign exchange trader in Moscow said he did not want to comment on the central bank's efforts to support the falling rouble because if he did, it would add to the bad news surrounding the currency.

"I am a Russian patriot and I would not like that," he said.

Speaking the truth is now unpatriotic. *sighs* Where did this meme come from? It's present here too.

To make matters worse, don't criticize the government, comrade!

A new law drafted by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's Cabinet would allow authorities to label any government critic a traitor — a move that leading rights activists condemned Wednesday as a chilling reminder of the times under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

The draft extends the definition of treason from breaching Russia's external security to damaging the nation's constitutional order, sovereignty or territorial integrity. That would essentially let authorities interpret any act against the interests of the state as treason — a crime prosecutable by up to 20 years in prison.
More here.

Better start praying that oil prices stay low. Really low. For a long, long time.

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