Vienna, April 30 – In an unusual but unfortunately not unprecedented development, Russian media are hyping a suggestion by analysts at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch that Moscow should not publish unemployment statistics so frequently lest it lead to “the destabilization of the social situation” in the Russian Federation.
Not only do such notions, however much they might help some investors, violate American principles on the free flow of information, they fail to recognize that such proposals reinforce Moscow’s proclivity to secrecy and generate suspicions among the Russian people that are far more likely to be destabilizing than the release of information would be.
In an article today about the Russian government’s plans to conduct “the anti-crisis Petersburg forum in a new ‘interactive format,’” “Nezavisimaya gazeta” reported that analysts at the US bank have published a new report calling the growth of unemployment in Russia “an ever more significant problem” (www.ng.ru/economics/2009-04-30/4_tvshow.html?insidedoc).
According to the Moscow paper, the American investment analysts, who had earlier identified Russia as one of the most important emerging markets said that “the decision of the [Russian] government to publish statistics on unemployment every month was premature since it could contribute to the destabilization of the situation.”
While “Nezavisimaya gazeta” put this American suggestion at the end of its article, many Russian news outlets have made it the center of their reporting. Newsru.com, for example, headlined its article “The US Advises the Russian Government Not to Publish Unemployment Data in Order to Avoid Instability” (www.newsru.com/russia/30apr2009/bezrabotitsa.html).
But that news agency also noted that this call by an American firm for the Russian government to release even less information than it had was belated. Newsru.com noted that “even before” the Americans offered this advice, the Russian Statistical Committee “had ceased to publish monthly reports.”
That action, one of several cutbacks in statistical and other forms of government information in the Russian Federation, “immediately led media [there] to conclude that the government wants them to reduce their coverage of unwelcome trends,” a desire that the report suggested now enjoyed the support of American bankers as well.
Russian media and Russian officials pay close attention to what Americans, official and otherwise, say about their country, far more than the reverse, and they often invoke such statements to press their own agendas or at least to legitimize them, again in ways very different from the way in which American outlets treat suggestions coming from Russia.
Indeed, Russian outlets have also played up the conclusions of the US-based Eurasia Group on “Risks in an Unstable World” which suggested that growing unemployment and inflation in Russia could lead to a crisis in which Vladimir Putin might soon replace Dmitry Medvedev as president by offering himself as “the savior of the fatherland.”
That makes any American suggestion, especially one for the Russian government to reduce the amount of information available to the Russian people, far more important than it might otherwise be, a reminder if one still is needed for those in the US writing about developments in that country to exercise extreme caution.