Spoilers. France is a great country. Russia could have been had it not been ruled by a warmonger supported by oligarchs who have robbed their country at the expense of ordinary Russians.
Kremlin, which is run by the former KGB agent Putin, is as incapable of providing its citizens with a living standard comparable to ours, as it is reluctant to grant its citizens the same set of human rights that we have. So, since Kremlin cannot offer an attractive model of society, it tries to make Russia look less unfavourable by disseminating disinformation and fake news about countries in the West. After the meddling in the US presidential elections, Kremlin turned its eyes on other countries. Its cyber troops tried to prevent Macron from being elected by leaking hacked real and forged emails from Macron’s campaign just two days before the elections. This was one of the last moves to discredit Macron. The Kremlin campaign “MacronGate” had begun months earlier with fake news about Macron in the social media. However, Kremlin failed miserably and the attempts by the Russian state-owned “media” RT and Sputnik were easily dismissed. As if this defeat was not enough for Putain, Macron not only pulled down his pants but also gave him a jolly good spanking at this press conference after a meeting in Paris.
If it is one thing Putin cannot stand it is being humiliated. And therefore Sputnik and RT are all over Paris and France “reporting” not only about real or imagined police brutality but also about how the French population suffer under Macron. Their lies and attempts to capitalize on the yellow vests and the relationships between some of the latter with RT has not gone unnoticed. In fact, the exposure made by @Ars_Faivre prompted RT to come out with a pathetic “denial”.
As mentioned above, the purpose of that “reporting” is to portray Russia as not so bad after all. But does it work? Let us have a look and compare the situation for the French people with the Russian people in terms of welfare and human rights.
Russians have become less free during Putin’s reign…
Whether countries can be regarded as free or not is studied by many organisations and academic institutions. The advantages of these analyses are the transparency of their methods for collecting, processing and analysing information about how to assess freedom. The sources mentioned below all have methodological documents published on their web pages.
According to Freedom House’s assessment, Russia was Partly Free in 1999 when Putin became president. That concerned the media sector too. However, after only six years of Putin, the Freedom House’s experts assessed Russia as Not Free again. And so it remains today, c.f. Table 1.
Table 1. Freedom in France vs Russia
Source: Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/
While the French population enjoy total and free access to Internet and different types of related services, the Russian government does not trust its citizens to use the possibilities that a free Internet offer, c.f. Figure 1.
Figure 1. Freedom on the Net 2017 in France and Russia.
Source: Freedom House. https://freedomhouse.org/report/freedom-net/freedom-net-2018/map.
And that is something which neither Sputnik nor RT would write about.
Living in a free country means that you can be reasonably sure that the government and authorities do not treat you unfairly in a systematic way or use the judicial system to oppress you if you criticise the government. In other words, free countries are characterised by Rule of Law whereby citizens are guaranteed their rights. According to the World Justice Project which every year publishes a Rule of Law Index, France is much better than Russia in this respect. The index ranges from zero to one and in the last version France’s total score was 0.73 while Russia scored 0.47, yielding the countries 17th and 88th ranks respectively. The index is made up of eight factors, c.f. Figure 2.
Figure 2. Rule of Law in France and in Russia 2018.
As is obvious from the graph above, human rights is hard currency in Russia. The non-transparency of government is of course strongly correlated with high corruption. The only subfactor where the situation in Russia is not light years worse than in France concerns Order and Security. This could be deemed as positive but the low constraints on government powers indicates that the regime uses its law enforcement powers to clamp down on critics. And anyone who criticises Russian in a way that the authorities perceive as an insult, may go to jail.
…and have less free elections making it harder to elect another president or government than in France
In France, citizens can out on the streets and demonstrate knowing that they will be treated fairly by the authorities. And should they not be happy with the government, they can participate in free and fair elections which is something that is not guaranteed in Russia as pointed out by the OSCE on numerous elections. In the last presidential elections in 2018, OSCE stated in their final report.
“the 18 March presidential election took place in an overly controlled legal and political environment marked by continued pressure on critical voices, while the CEC administered the election efficiently and openly. After intense efforts to promote turnout, citizens voted in significant numbers, yet restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression, as well as on candidate registration, have limited the space for political engagement and resulted in a lack of genuine competition. While candidates could generally campaign freely, the extensive and uncritical coverage of the incumbent as president in most media resulted in an uneven playing field”
“The legal framework for the presidential election is comprehensive, and recent amendments addressed some previous ODIHR recommendations. However, it remains highly complex and contains a number of restrictions, including on voter and candidate rights. Several amendments to a dozen different laws since the 2012 presidential election limited some constitutionally guaranteed political rights and fundamental freedoms, contrary to several OSCE commitments and other international obligations and standards for democratic elections.”
(And the assessment of the latest French presidential elections for comparison.)
So, not only the elections themselves but also the election campaigns are not as free as in France and other European countries, e.g. Sweden, cf. Figure 3.
Figure 3. Freedom and fairness of elections and elections campaigns in France, Russia and Sweden.
Source: V-Dem. Varieties of Democracy https://www.v-dem.net/en/
In countries which are not free, corruption is more pervasive.
and remains as corrupt as before Putin
Corruption is a well-known problem in Russia which is also confirmed by data from Transparency International. According to the Corruption Perception Index 2019, Russia ranks as 138 among 180 countries while France ranks as 21. Even though Putin often publicly has promised to fight corruption, Russia is still among the most corrupt countries since Putin came to power in 1999. Russia ranked 83 out of 98 countries in the 1999 Corruption Perception Index.
Which helps his oligarchs to share increase their wealth at the expense of ordinary Russians
In countries with high corruption and restrictions of the press, can the economic and political elites more easily use its influences to get their hands on more than proportionate shares of income and wealth. One would therefore expect the inequality to be higher in Russia than in France. This is also what one finds when analysing the World Inequality Database. Income inequality remained constant in France between 1999 and 2014 while wealth inequality decreased. Both income inequality and wealth inequality have increased in Russia since Putin came to power, c.f. Table 2.
Table 2. The richest percentiles shares of national income and wealth in France and Russia (%).
Source: World Inequality Database. www.wid.world. Note: Data for France refer to 2014.
And it goes without saying that poverty is bigger problem in Russia than in France. According to the World Bank. 2.7% of the Russian population had less than $5.5 (2011 PPP) per day to live on in 2015 compared to 0.5% in France.
….and continued dependency on volatile oil prices will not increase the lives of ordinary Russians
It is true that living standards increased significantly after Putin came to power but as pointed out in the previous entry about Nord Stream 2, the Russian economy is heavily dependent on oil prices. Putin is of course aware of that and every year in his well-directed State-of-the-Nation address announces ambitious plans to increase efforts to make the Russian economy less dependent on oil and more knowledge-intensive. That would enable the Russian economy to produce more advanced products with higher value added and in the end more prosperous to the benefit of ordinary Russians.
But whatever efforts have been made in this direction have not led to any tangible results. Researchers at the Center for International Development at Harvard University have developed a method for analysing countries’ capacities to produce advanced product, the Economic Complexity Index. The index is calculated for 127 countries which are ranked according to their ability to produce complex products. Since 1999, Russia has not been able to keep up with other countries but lost places in the ranking and was 2016 ranked in place 48 compared to 31 in 1999 much less advanced than France, c.f. Figure 4.
Figure 4. The Economic Complexity Index 1999 and 2016
Source: Center for International Development, Harvard University. http://atlas.cid.harvard.edu/rankings
Also, using the Center’s tools for visualising countries’ exports and imports confirm that Russia’s industris are predominantly low-tech. Russia imports knowledge-intensive products to a large extent while its exports are primarily sourced from its natural resources. On the other hand, some 25% of French exports in 2016 consisted of high-tech products such as ICT, aircraft and spacecraft. I don’t think this has appeared as headlines on Sputnik or RT.
…which are tougher and shorter than in France
If Putin is serious about improving his citizens welfare, he should strive to do something to make the economy more like French and richer so that more resources can be spent for the benefits of the Russian people. Now, the situation is dire and even dangerous for Russians whose life expectancy is ten years lower than for French citizens, c.f. Table 3.
Table 3. Indicators of human development for France and Russia (%).
Source: United Nations Development Programme. http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/human-development-index-hdi
Given that the air is much more polluted in Russia, one wonders if not the Russian should devote a larger share of its budget on health expenditures. And that is not the only factor affecting Russians’ health. It is about 10 times more likely to be murdered in Russia than in France and while there is no difference in suicide rates between French and Russian women, Russian men are significantly more prone to throw in their towels. It is therefore not surprising that the French propulation have a considerably longer life and is happier while living it than Russians, c.f. Figure 5.
Figure 5. Happiness in the World 2018.
Source: The World Happiness Report 2019. https://worldhappiness.report/
But maybe I have been unfair to Putin and what he has done to Russia. Is it impossible to find something in which Russia outperform France? No, it isn’t. Russia spends about three times more than France on military expenditures when measured relative to total government expenditures. Measuring military expenditures this way gives a hint about a country’s priorities. France has different priorities that is clear, c.f. Figure 6.
Figure 6. Military expenditures relative to total government expenditures in France and Russia(%).
Now, that it something you can read about on the web sites of Sputnik and watch on RT. Military might is a matter of national pride and something to brag about.
Maybe that money could have been spent for better purposes such as health care, elderly care, infrastructure, schools and other things which would improve ordinary Russians’ lives. It would be welcome because according to “Russia’s state statistical agency, Rosstat, 35 million Russians live in houses or apartments without indoor toilets, 47 million do not have hot water, 29 million don’t have any running water inside their residences, and 22 million do not have central heating”.
But instead Putin has chosen to spend the money to invade Crimea and parts of Donbas where his troops are firing at Ukrainians every day. And also he needs troops to keep the parts of Georgia and Moldovia that he has sliced out. Otherwise, you might think that a country that has not been exposed to any external threat since the end of WWII would not need to spend so much on the military.
So, whatever RT and Sputnik vomit or report, France is a welfare state where people can live safely knowing that the government won’t abondon them even if they critizice it. Russians cannot. And as for what the two countries have to offer the world, France not only exports high-tech products but also great food and culture while Russia under Putin send troops to kill Ukrainians and secret agents to kill Russians in the UK. And no, criticizing the regime in Kremlin is not russophobic. Oppressing its own citizens of human rights is.
Working for RT (Russia Today) and Sputnik News
There is plenty of evidence of how these two Kremlin outlets work. Here are some stories from people who could not stomach to continue to work for liars.
Liz Wahl quit Russia Today during broadcast
Sara Firth quit Russia Today as she refused to be a part of its fake stories about the downing of MH17 by Russian troops
How RT and Sputnik tried to capitalize on the yellow vests and also exposing Russian troops in Ukraine
@Ars_Faivre on twitter
 I included Sweden in the comparison due to the necessity of having three countries for that graph.
 The former Soviet republics Georgia and Kazakhstan are now ranked as less corrupt than Russia while Azerbaijan, the Kyrgyz Republic and Uzbekistan are still assessed as more corrupt. Other former Soviet republics were not assessed in 1999.
. That was a bit sloppy phrased. Top 1% income refers to the percentile earning the highest income during a year. Top 1% wealth refers to the percentile holding the highest wealth during a year. These percentils do to a large extent consist of the same people but there are people who belong in only one of the groups.
 “Economic Complexity Index (for locations): A measure of the knowledge in a society as expressed in the products it makes. The economic complexity of a country is calculated based on the diversity of exports a country produces and their ubiquity, or the number of the countries able to produce them (and those countries’ complexity).” http://atlas.cid.harvard.edu/downloads.