Actually, most of these are not even that fresh, but are merely recycled assaults on common sense that have achieved the status of conventional wisdom through relentless repetition.

Old favourites:

- Vladimir Putin owns somewhere between 50% and 75% of privately-owned energy company Gunvor

- The cost of Vladimir Putin’s wristwatches adds up to more than his annual salary

- Russia’s economy is weak because it is too dependent on energy exports

- Russia has the world’s highest rates of alcoholism and divorce

Fresher fish

But some are fairly contemporary, and so I’d like to look first at the enduring myth that Vladimir Putin’s inauguration as President of the Russian Federation for a third term, around the same time as regular elections to the Duma, was met with “unprecedented protests” which brought the Russian people into the streets in such numbers that the Kremlin was rocked to its foundations.

‘Massive’ protests

It’s still the subject of intense debate whether the protest rally at Bolotnaya or the one three weeks later – at Sakharov Avenue – saw the bigger turnout, but the opposition and its supporters are comfortable that it was one of those.

“Massive” protest, crowed Voice of America. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) agreed the protests were “massive”, and reported the police said about 20,000 demonstrators showed up, while organizers insisted there were at least 100,000 (that was the Bolotnaya event).

This was to become an ongoing phenomenon, as organizers regularly claimed numbers at least double those provided by the police in subsequent demonstrations, and often triple or even more.

Western news agencies were often happy to go with the largest number, while the western regime-changers were giddy with excitement.

At least one American television network (FOX News, unsurprisingly, Rupert Murdoch’s conservative smoke machine) was so transported by excitement that it aired video footage of Molotov cocktails thrown in Athens and passed it off as conditions on the ground in Moscow.

‘Massive’? Seriously?

There were 109,610,812 registered voters in the 2012 Russian electorate. Assuming the probably inflated figure of 120,000 for the Sakharovsky Prospekt protests, that would comprise less than 0.2% of the Russian electorate.

And that’s supposed to be a massive protest, the ringing voice of a wronged people. It also assumes everyone at the Sakharovsky protest was of voting age.

All right, let’s move on

Vladimir Putin does not own 50% of Gunvor, or 75%, and probably not any of Gunvor. Gunvor is controlled by Gennady Timchenko and Swede Tobjorn Tornqvist.

A major western news outfit, The Economist – known for its wretched and falsehood-riddled coverage of Russia – penned a story called “Grease My Palm”, in which it suggested Vladimir Putin owned a major stake in Gunvor, which rubbish it got from a pet dissident and reputed PR guru Stanislav Belkovsky.

Belkovsky appears to have pulled that story from someplace on his body where the sun never shines, because there is as much truth in it as there are feathers on a trout. When Gunvor had had enough, and threatened to sue The Economist, the latter backed down and printed a humiliating retraction.

Watch it…

There is no end of silly stories on the Internet claiming Putin has a million-dollar collection of wristwatches (“millions” in the headline, “$700,000.00” in the body of the article), and how can he afford them on his tiny official salary, thereby implying he is either lying about how much he gets paid, or stealing the money to keep himself in watches.

In fact, his watches are probably purchased by the state, his salary is considerably higher than many sources claim, and he regularly gives them away to ordinary people he meets, or athletes who bring recognition to the Russian Federation.

Vladimir Putin earns $115,282.53 USD in salary by today’s exchange rates; I suspect he could afford some pretty nice watches just on his salary, provided he only bought one a year – it’s not like he has to pay much for rent or food, is it?

What price Sarkozy’s timepieces?

The west was gaga over Nicolas Sarkozy, and some of his watches cost twice as much as the average person’s car – yet you’d be as likely to see him cut off his arm as give one away. Nicolas Sarkozy made better than 3 times more in salary in 2011 than Putin, and although already a multi-millionaire upon assuming the office of president, he immediately doubled the salary, while he is also entitled to a generous pension as the former mayor of Neuilly-sur Seine – the richest district in France.

Aah, one of my favourites

…and a red herring if ever there was one – Russia’s economy is shaky because it is too dependent on oil and gas.

First of all, the notion is idiotic just on its face; Russia is the world’s largest energy producer, and cries that they must diversify away from it or face economic extinction – in favour of what? Poultry? Cucumbers? HB pencils? – is like saying Saudi Arabia should get out of the oil business and start retailing sand for cement.

Do you want to know why the west keeps waving that red herring?

Because if the Russian economy relied on any other product, the west could – and would – embargo or boycott it.

But it cannot, because the West, too, is dependent on petroleum for the bulk of its energy needs, and it is an internationally-traded commodity.

But let’s look at it another way – when the shale gas industry bamboozled the western public into believing that Poland was going to supply all of Europe’s energy needs and cut Russia out of the picture, did you hear any howls that Poland was setting itself up for a big fall by depending on energy revenues, and that they should immediately start growing more potatoes as a backup plan? Show me. You know you didn’t. Instead, reliance on Russia was “a problem” that Poland was going to solve, you better believe.

Energy is a windfall that calls for celebration, in any place but Russia, where it is just another liability on the road to perdition.

Spot the difference

Of the USA’s top 10 industries, nearly half are energy companies. Of Europe’s top 10 industries, half are energy companies, one of which is GAZPROM – 6 of 10 if you count E.ON, but it’s nuclear.

In 2010, half the top 10 Russian companies were energy companies.

Forgive me if I do not see a huge difference.

Drink and divorce

The country with the highest rate of divorce is the United States.

While Russia has a definite alcohol problem, measured by the death rate due to alcoholism it is only a medium, and Norway, Austria, Germany, France and Poland all have significantly higher death rates attributed to that cause.

More red herrings.

For pity’s sake…

It seems of terrible importance to the West that Russia admit to savagery, incompetence and failure, promise to atone and beg for help to lift it out of its desperate plight.

Only then will the west, reassured of its moral superiority and rightness, extend the pitying hand of friendship.

Because, you see, it must pity Russia in order for the proper order of its world to be established.

Therefore, situations and conditions which would inspire pity – a plummeting population, out-of-control alcoholism, rampaging corruption and a collapsing economy – if they do not prevail to the necessary degree, must be invented.

 

Mark Chapman's blog is The Kremlin Stooge