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Unfiled November 4, 2005
The MT Confidence Game
By Mark Ames Browse author Email

The big story in Russia's non-Kremlin-controlled press on October 18th was the latest report by Transparency International, the respected Western corruption watchdog, showing that corruption in Russia had significantly worsened over the past year. Radio and news outlets not tightly directly by the Kremlin led with this depressing story, noting that Russia had fallen to 129th place, tied with Niger and Sierra Leone.

Only one serious non-Kremlin controlled media outlet thought that Transparency's report on Russia's worsening corruption wasn't big news: The Moscow Times. The only coverage they gave to the report was a small story buried on page seven, harmlessly titled, "Russia Becomes More Opaque."

In journo terms, this means the story got buried.

Contrast the MT's decision to bury Transparency's corruption sensation to the MT's banner headline story a couple of weeks earlier on Aton Capitol's Peter Westin's side-splitting report arguing that Russia was on the verge of overtaking Germany as the world's economic powerhouse. Westin at least can be forgiven - pimping Russia brings his bank cash. But turning his pitch into a headline story titled, "Study Maps Russia's Resurgence" is as absurd as the New York Times leading with, "Snake Oil Salesman Predicts His Snake Oil Will Cure Death by 2015!"

Not that TI's report about worsening corruption is news. We've been hearing Western and Russian businessmen complaining in increasingly hysterical volumes for months now about how the chinovniki have completely gone apeshit, even by Yelstin-era standards, and how business is increasingly difficult.

To get a sense of just how sleazy and tireless the Moscow Times campaign really is, look no further than the MT Confidence Index, a little scam that was launched in 2003 to allegedly give investors a sense of how Russia was improving or worsening. Below, we reprint the headline and lead paragraphs of each of last year's MT Confidence Index articles. After reading it, we're sure you'll feel a lot warmer inside, and you'll be ready to give your local chinovnik a big thumbs up! Then you'll cut off your thumb, and tell him you still owe him about 15 ounces of flesh:

MT Index Points Out Resurgent Confidence

"After taking a plunge in the wake of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest last October, The Moscow Times Confidence Index for December is up more than 100 percent."

(January 12, 2004)

Investors Shaking Off Yukos Fears

Boosted by a relative absence of bad news over the long New Year's holiday, business confidence rose slightly in January, nearly touching the level seen in October prior to the arrest of Yukos founder Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

(February 5, 2004)

Blast, Sakhalin-3 Rattle Investors

Business confidence fell in February, as the bomb attack near the Avtozavodskaya metro station sent the business community a stark reminder of Russia's special brand of risk.

(March 4, 2004)

After Vote, Investors Hope for a Spring of Reform

Business confidence was on the way back up in March as market players looked forward to a spring of reform after President Vladimir Putin's resounding re-election.

(April 1, 2004) [This was not an April Fool's joke - Ed.]

Confidence Continues to Climb

Despite a falling stock market, business confidence rose for the second consecutive month in April, returning to a level last seen before Mikhail Khodorkovsky's arrest at gunpoint in late October.

(May 6, 2004)

Businesses Bullish Despite Yukos

Business confidence crept up in May despite a grim backdrop of political assassination and continued troubles at Yukos.

(June 3, 2004)

Confidence Ends 3-Month Climb

Business confidence fell in June on concerns over a potential banking crisis and the appearance that the Yukos affair was coming to a head.

(July 1, 2004)

July Sent a Jolt Through Investors

Confidence in the business climate plunged last month as the government threatened to sell off Yukos' main oil production field, rumors of a liquidity crisis caused a run on Russian banks, and American journalist Paul Klebnikov was shot dead in an apparent contract killing.

(August 5, 2004)

Confidence Inches Up in August

Business confidence nudged upward in August, as the Yukos affair dragged on and concerns over a summer banking crisis appeared to subside.

(September 2, 2004)

Confidence Slumps in September

Business confidence dipped in September after terrorist attacks shook the country and President Vladimir Putin proposed contentious changes in the country's political structure.

(October 7, 2004)

Confidence Looks Up in October

Business confidence looked up in October, marking the first significant change for the better since April, as the prospect of big investment opportunities appeared to outweigh concern over the legal assault on the oil major Yukos.

(November 4, 2004)

Confidence Steady in November

Overall business confidence held steady in November as the Yukos affair appeared to be finally drawing to a close, a new Ukrainian crisis appeared to be winding up, and the dollar showed signs of falling even further against the ruble and the euro.

(December 2, 2004)

Ah, that's really, really nice. Don't you feel all nice and warm inside? We better get our Crest Strips, cuz we be smilin'! While we're all snuggling up with positive feelings here, we thought we'd let you know that the good news is still rollin' in. Here's the most recent MT Confidence Index report, just in case you've worried that the trend may have started to change:

Summer Keeps Business Spirits Up

Business confidence dipped slightly but remained high in July as a booming stock market and the summer's relative political calm gave investors reason to cheer.

(August 4, 2005)

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