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ECONOMY UPGRADE: Russia’s economic management receives multiple endorsements

Successful eurobond sale in September, credit upgrade by Fitch, and sharp improvement in World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking, all confirm effectiveness of Russian government’s economic policies, amidst strengthening recovery.

Alexander Mercouris

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As economic recovery in Russia continues to gain hold, Russia has received authoritative endorsement both for its successful macroeconomic policies and for its rapidly improving business conditions.

The US credit rating agency Fitch on 14th October 2016 upgraded Russia’s rating from BBB- (negative) to BBB- (stable).

Normally I pay no attention to ratings decisions by US credit rating agencies, which have been proved repeatedly wrong, and which in Russia’s case are blatantly politicised. 

Back in 2015, during the worst period of the recession, I pointed out how obviously and completely wrong the decisions of the US credit rating agencies to downgrade Russia’s credit rating at that time were.

The market clearly agrees with me.  Fitch’s Russia rating is only just investment grade, whilst those of S&P and Moody’s actually give Russia a junk rating.  In spite of this – and as I predicted – Russia’s last eurobond issue in September was six times oversubscribed, with almost the entirety of the issue on this occasion sold to US investors.  Even the Western financial media has been finally forced to admit that Russia’s latest eurobond issue was a success.

If I refer to Fitch’s latest upgrade of Russia’s rating, it is not because I agree with Fitch’s rating of Russia (I don’t) but because of what Fitch has to say about Russia’s economic policy

“Russia has implemented a coherent and credible policy response to the sharp fall in oil prices. A flexible exchange rate, inflation targeting, fiscal consolidation and financial sector support have allowed the economy to adjust and domestic confidence to return gradually. The strength and quality of the policy response stands out relative to those of other oil producers similarly affected by the oil price shock.”

(bold italics added)

In other words Russia has responded to the oil price fall intelligently and successfully – more so than have the other oil producers. 

In his State of the Union address of 20th January 2015 US President Obama famously gloated

“today, it is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters.”

Judging by the success of its latest eurobond issue, and the credit upgrade Russia has just been given by Fitch, neither the market nor even Fitch agree with him.

Meanwhile Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking continues its rapid rise. 

In 2011 Russia’s ranking was 123 in the survey out of 183.  By 2014 it had risen to 62 out of 189, by 2015 to 51 out of 189, and in this year’s survey it has risen again to 40 out of 190. 

When I discussed last year’s survey I made the point that the dramatic improvement in Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking is simply incompatible with Russia being the corrupt kleptocracy of the West’s imagination

“In corrupt kleptocratic oligarchies courts do not function efficiently, contracts are not performed and enforced, rights of minority shareholders are not protected, and people are not able to register their property easily and do not pay their taxes.”

I also pointed out that the rapid improvement of Russia’s World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking proves that the claim that Russia is not “reforming” its economy is quite simply wrong.  Russia is not only continuously reforming its economy, but it is doing so successfully

“……the demand for more and more “reforms” simply ignores the fact that reforms are in fact being carried out.

Anyone who reads through the World Bank’s annual surveys will see that they are all about “reforms”. It is precisely because Russia is carrying out “reforms” that its ranking is rising so fast.

To be clear, modernising the court system, introducing a new bankruptcy law, simplifying procedures for connecting to the electricity supply, and passing laws on registering property and on administering bankruptcy, are reforms.

They may lack the drama of breaking up Gazprom, but academic research, historical experience and the World Bank all say the same thing: it is these sort of unexciting reforms that in the end are the ones that make a difference and which produce results.

In other words Russia is reforming, and it is doing so successfully, in a methodical and purposeful way.

Doing so requires hard work and unremitting attention to detail. The Russian authorities deserve credit for successfully doing it, not the criticism for doing nothing that they normally get.”

I also made an extended point about what Russia’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business survey says about the overall level of Russia’s society and economy.  The continued advance in Russia’s ranking to 40th in the world shows that this point remains valid, so I reproduce it here in full

“The second point is that if one looks at what sort of countries now outrank Russia in the survey, it turns out that they are – broadly speaking – the three Asian industrial giants: Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, the two Asian city states of Hong Kong and Singapore, and the traditional and well established industrialised societies of the West: the US, the three rich countries of the British commonwealth (Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and most (though not all) the states of the EU – in sum what was once called “the first world”.

If one removes the one indicator where Russia scores especially badly, Trading Across Borders – for which there are special reasons (see above) – Russia becomes even more clearly aligned with these “first world” countries rather than with those countries that make up what used to be called “the third world”.

The Russian government’s target is to achieve 20th place in the World Bank’s ease of doing business survey by 2018. That may be too optimistic, though it is worth pointing out that the target for this year was 50th, which Russia only missed by one place.

If Russia does achieve a ranking of 20th in the world by 2018 then it will be right in the middle of the “first world” group of countries rather than just outside it. At that point it will also have one of the best business climates in the world.

Even if Russia does not achieve 20th position by 2018, the pace of improvement in the rankings is so fast it suggests Russia will break in fully in terms of quality of its business climate into the list of “first world” countries before long.”

Inevitably, as Russia’s position in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business survey has rapidly improved, some commentators both in the West and Russia have cast doubt on the survey, even though its methodology is rigorous (originating apparently with Harvard University) and even though it is based on thorough field work.   Needless to say these are the same commentators who regularly cited the survey when Russia’s ranking in it was poor.

There is in fact no reason to think the rapid rise in Russia’s position in the survey does not reflect actual business conditions.  As I said in my discussion of last year’s survey, its results were anecdotally confirmed to me in a meeting I had with a group of local businessmen in Perm. 

A far more authoritative person has now come forward and said the same thing.  This is German Gref, the single individual who is perhaps best informed about conditions for businesses in Russia because he is the CEO of Sberbank, Russia’s biggest bank, which is the national (as opposed to local) bank that small businesses in Russia are most likely to look to for credit. 

Gref stands politically at the farthest liberal end of the spectrum of Russia’s political and economic establishment, and he is far from shy about criticising the government, which he does frequently.  Yet in a meeting with Putin on 4th August 2016 he confirmed the improvement in business conditions in Russia

“I think that the environment that we will have in place by the end of 2016, when all of the legal amendments take effect, will mean that Russia will be offering one of the most interesting and technologically convenient environments for small businesses.”

(bold italics added)

Because of the extremely poor relations between the West and Russia, Russia’s economy and its economic management are continuously and relentlessly criticised in a way which plays well to Western prejudice but which grossly distorts understanding of the country and its government.

Russia’s highly conservative macroeconomic policies emphasising tight budget discipline (the federal budget deficit at the peak of the recession was 3% of GDP, roughly the same as that of the US and below that of Britain during their ‘recoveries’, with the Russian government planning to cut the deficit by 1% of GDP over each coming year), low taxes (income tax is levied at a flat rate of 13%), high real interest rates (currently around 4% above inflation), open financial markets, low debt (government debt in Russia is 17.7% of GDP compared to 104% in the US, 229% in Japan, 89% in Britain, 96% in France and 71% in Germany), low external debt (roughly 20% of Russia’s GDP, compared to 114% of the US’s, 570% of Britain’s, 220% of France’s, 145% of Germany’s and 60% of Japan’s) and floating exchange rate, have in reality enabled Russia – as Fitch says – to adjust rapidly and very successfully to the fall in oil prices.

At the same time the rapid improvement in business conditions shown by the rapid rise of Russia’s ranking in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business survey shows that Russia is also working hard and successfully at getting its microeconomic conditions right.

In other words the people who run Russia’s economy know their job and by and large they do it well. 

That does not mean they are infallible.  In my opinion interest rates are far too high, with the 4% inflation target for next year in danger of becoming a fetish. 

However compared to the appalling mismanagement one sees elsewhere, far from being the collapsing kleptocratic empire of Western fancy, Russia looks like an island of stability and good sense.

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Tape recorded evidence of Clinton-Ukraine meddling in US election surfaces (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou take a look at new evidence to surface from Ukraine that exposes a plot by the US Embassy in Kiev and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to leak Paul Manafort’s corrupt dealings in the country, all for the benefit of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

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Via Zerohedge


Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has launched an investigation into the head of the Ukrainian National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly attempting to help Hillary Clinton defeat Donald Trump during the 2016 US election by releasing damaging information about a “black ledger” of illegal business dealings by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Hill’s John Solomon, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko

“Today we will launch a criminal investigation about this and we will give legal assessment of this information,” Lutsenko said last week, according to The Hill

Lutsenko is probing a claim from a member of the Ukrainian parliament that the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Artem Sytnyk, attempted to the benefit of the 2016 U.S. presidential election on behalf of Hillary Clinton.

A State Department spokesman told Hill.TV that officials aware of news reports regarding Sytnyk. –The Hill

“According to the member of parliament of Ukraine, he got the court decision that the NABU official conducted an illegal intrusion into the American election campaign,” said Lutsenko, speaking with The Hill’s John Solomon about the anti-corruption bureau chief, Artem Sytnyk.

“It means that we think Mr. Sytnyk, the NABU director, officially talked about criminal investigation with Mr. [Paul] Manafort, and at the same time, Mr. Sytnyk stressed that in such a way, he wanted to assist the campaign of Ms. Clinton,” Lutsenko continued.

Solomon asked Lutsenko about reports that a member of Ukraine’s parliament obtained a tape of the current head of the NABU saying that he was attempting to help Clinton win the 2016 presidential election, as well as connections that helped release the black-ledger files that exposed Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort‘s wrongdoing in Ukraine.

“This member of parliament even attached the audio tape where several men, one of which had a voice similar to the voice of Mr. Sytnyk, discussed the matter.” –The Hill

What The Hill doesn’t mention is that Sytnyk released Manafort’s Black Book with Ukrainian lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko – discussed in great length by former Breitbart investigator Lee Stranahan, who has been closely monitoring this case.

Serhiy Leshchenko

T]he main spokesman for these accusations was Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian politician and journalist who works closely with both top Hillary Clinton donors George Soros and Victor Pinchuk, as well as to the US Embassy in Kyiv.

James Comey should be asked about this source that Leshchenko would not identify. Was the source someone connected to US government, either the State Department or the Department of Justice?

The New York Times should also explain why they didn’t mention that Leshchenko had direct connections to two of Hillary Clinton biggest financial backers. Victor Pinchuk, the largest donor to the Clinton Foundation at a staggering $8.6 million also happened to have paid for Leshchenko’s expenses to go to international conferences. George Soros, whose also founded the International Renaissance Foundationthat worked closely with Hillary Clinton’s State Department in Ukraine, also contributed at least $8 million to Hillary affiliated super PACs in the 2016 campaign cycle. –Lee Stranahan via Medium

Meanwhile, according to former Fusion GPS contractor Nellie Ohr, Leshchenko was a source for opposition research firm Fusion GPS, which commissioned the infamous Trump-Russia dossier.

Nellie Ohr, a former contractor for the Washington, D.C.-based Fusion GPS, testified on Oct. 19 that Serhiy Leshchenko, a former investigative journalist turned Ukrainian lawmaker, was a source for Fusion GPS during the 2016 campaign.

“I recall … they were mentioning someone named Serhiy Leshchenko, a Ukrainian,” Ohr said when asked who Fusion GPS’s sources were, according to portions of Ohr’s testimony confirmed by The Daily Caller News Foundation. –Daily Caller

Also absent from The Hill report is the fact that Leshchenko was convicted in December by a Kiev court of interfering in the 2016 US election.

A Kyiv court said that a Ukrainian lawmaker and a top anticorruption official’s decision in 2016 to publish documents linked to President Donald Trump’s then-campaign chairman amounted to interference in the U.S. presidential election.

The December 11 finding came in response to a complaint filed by another Ukrainian lawmaker, who alleged that Serhiy Leshchenko and Artem Sytnyk illegally released the documents in August 2016, showing payments by a Ukrainian political party to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

The documents, excerpts from a secret ledger of payments by the Party of Regions, led to Manafort being fired by Trump’s election campaign.

The Kyiv court said that the documents published by Leshchenko and Sytnyk were part of an ongoing pretrial investigation in Ukraine into the operations of the pro-Russian Party of Regions. The party’s head had been President Viktor Yanukovych until he fled the country amid mass protests two years earlier.

-RadioFreeEurope/Radio Liberty (funded by the US govt.).

So while Lutsenko – Solomon’s guest and Ukrainian Prosecutor is currently going after Artem Sytnyk, it should be noted that Leshchenko was already found to have meddled in the 2016 US election.

Watch:

Meanwhile, you can also check out Stranahan’s take on Leshchenko being left out of the loop.

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‘I will take over as Brexit Party leader’: Nigel Farage back on the frontline

Nigel Farage says that if the UK takes part in European elections, he will lead his new Brexit Party.

RT

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Via RT


Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage has announced that he will lead his new Brexit Party into the European elections if UK MPs decide to delay Brexit beyond May 22.

Farage, who has ostensibly appointed himself leader, told various media, including the BBC and Sky News on Friday morning: “I will take over as leader of the Brexit Party and lead it into the European Elections.”

It comes after the Brexit Party’s leader, Catherine Blaiklock, quit over a series of alleged Islamophobic statements and retweets of far-right figures on social media.

It is not yet thought that Farage has officially been elected as leader, as the party does not, as yet, have a formal infrastructure to conduct such a vote.

The right-wing MEP vowed to put out a whole host of Brexit Party candidates if the UK participates in the upcoming EU elections in May, adding: “If we fight those elections, we will fight them on trust.”

On Thursday night, the EU agreed to PM May’s request for a delaying to Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline. Brussels announced two new exit dates depending on what happens next week in the UK parliament.

The UK will have to leave the bloc on April 12 unless British MPs agree to May’s Brexit deal. If the withdrawal agreement is passed by next week, EU leaders have agreed to grant an extension until May 22.

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Baltics cannot rely on Germany any more

The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it is supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership blunders.

The Duran

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Submitted by Adomas Abromaitis…

On March 29 Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia will celebrate 15 years of becoming NATO member states. The way to the alliance membership was not simple for newly born independent countries. They have reached great success in fulfilling many of NATO demands: they have considerably increased their defence expenditures, renewed armaments and increased the number of military personnel.

In turn, they get used to rely on more powerful member states, their advice, help and even decision making. All these 15 years they felt more or less safe because of proclaimed European NATO allies’ capabilities.

Unfortunately, now it is high time to doubt. The matter is NATO today is not as strong as it supposed to be. And it is not only because of leadership’s blunders. Every member state does a bit. As for the Baltic states, they are particularly vulnerable, because they fully depend on other NATO member states in their defence. Thus, Germany, Canada and Britain are leading nations of the NATO battle group stationed in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia respectively.

But the state of national armed forces in Germany, for example, raises doubts and makes it impossible not only defend the Baltics against Russia, but Germany itself.

It turned out, that Germany itself remains dissatisfied with its combat readiness and minister of defence’s ability to perform her duties. Things are so bad, that the military’s annual readiness report would be kept classified for the first time for “security reasons.”

“Apparently the readiness of the Bundeswehr is so bad that the public should not be allowed to know about it,” said Tobias Lindner, a Greens member who serves on the budget and defense committees.

Inspector General Eberhard Zorn said (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-arms/germany-not-satisfied-with-readiness-of-submarines-some-aircraft-idUSKBN1QS1G7) the average readiness of the country’s nearly 10,000 weapons systems stood at about 70 percent in 2018, which meant Germany was able to fulfill its military obligations despite increasing responsibilities.

No overall comparison figure was available for 2017, but last year’s report revealed readiness rates of under 50 percent for specific weapons such as the aging CH-53 heavy-lift helicopters and the Tornado fighter jets.

Zorn said this year’s report was more comprehensive and included details on five main weapons systems used by the cyber command, and eight arms critical for NATO’s high readiness task force, which Germany heads this year.

“The overall view allows such concrete conclusions about the current readiness of the Bundeswehr that knowledge by unauthorized individuals would harm the security interests of the Federal Republic of Germany,” he wrote.

Critics are sure of incompetence of the Federal Minister of Defence, Ursula von der Leyen. Though she has occupied the upper echelons of German politics for 14 years now — and shows no sign of success. This mother of seven, gynecologist by profession, by some miracle for a long time has been remaining in power, though has no trust even among German military elites. Despite numerous scandals she tries to manage the Armed Forces as a housewife does and, of course, the results are devastating for German military capabilities. The same statement could be easily apply for the Baltic States, which highly dependent on Germany in military sphere.

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