In the Thick of ItA blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
From Wine to Tornadoes: Russians Continue to Invoke ‘No Worse’ Argument in Competition With West
Speakers of every language have their verbal tics, but one Russian phrase seems to resurface constantly in official or semi-official speech and writing—particularly when it comes to comparisons with the West: “no worse and even better than.” Some of these “no worse” propositions go back as far as the 18th century, to the reign of Russia’s first emperor, Peter the Great, who was also, perhaps, the first Russian ruler to prioritize adopting Western know-how to make the Russian state more capable of competing with Europe’s leading powers. As early as 1724, Ivan Pososhkov, Peter I’s contemporary and a supporter of his reforms, wrote in his critique of mercantilism: “God has blessed us Russians with grain and honey and all matter of drinks. We have a countless plentitude of vodkas; our beers are top-notch and our honeys superb … no worse than from the Rhine, and much better than bad ones from the Rhine.”1
Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the use of “no worse” persisted as the emergent Soviet state continued to compete with the West. With its people short on personal freedoms and high-quality consumer goods, the Bolshevik leadership emphasized all the ways in which the Soviet state was “no worse and even better than” the West as the two wrangled in global competition. The dissolution of the USSR 30 years ago did not end the “no worse” habit. In recent years, Russian officials, business leaders and journalists have applied this convention to everything from missile technologies and special forces to wine and tornadoes. Their counterparts in other former Soviet countries have retained a similar taste for the “no worse” trope.
Often the phrase used in Russian is some variation of “ne ustupayet … a dazhe prevoskhodit,” which can be rendered in different ways in English depending on the context, but generally conveys a claim that one thing is not inferior to another—in quality, significance, intensity or some other aspect—and, in fact, is even superior in some respects. (A few years ago, one state-run news agency attributed the phrase to a Canadian fighter pilot who had positively compared the Soviet-designed MiG-29 to American F-16s after becoming one of the first Westerners to fly the craft back in 1989.)
The “ne ustupayet … a dazhe prevoskhodit” formula can serve purposes beyond boasting. Sometimes, it is flipped on its head—with claims that something undesirable is done no less intensely by the West than by its adversaries—or it is used with morbid irony.
Here, we have begun an evolving collection of examples of the “no worse and even better” phenomenon, organized using the categories from our news and analysis digests. If any of our readers have noted some comparably telling Russia-related tic in English, please don’t hesitate to let us know.
I. U.S. and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda
- Sergei Pertsev, then head of the Russian Defense Ministry’s Central Research Institute No. 12: “Russia has proven to the international community that Russia’s nuclear munitions are dependably protected and are in no way inferior to international standards in terms of all the criteria of nuclear security commonly accepted in nuclear-armed states and in some respects—in particular in terms of resistance to unsanctioned activities—are even superior.” (PIR Center round table, circa 2012)
North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs:
- Russian historian Konstantin Asmolov, a senior researcher at Korean-studies centers affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moscow State University: “If we set aside the rhetoric about ‘measures of self-defense taken in response to provocations,’ then the level of South Korean-U.S. military activity is no lower than North Korea’s, and perhaps even higher. From March through September 2017 alone, the U.S. and South Korea have conducted 15 military exercises, which included … missile launches and sorties by strategic bombers.” (Russia in Global Affairs, 10.30.17)
Iran and its nuclear program:
- No significant examples.
Great power rivalry/new Cold War/NATO-Russia relations:
- Head of the Russian Navy’s shipbuilding directorate, Vladimir Tryapichnikov, describing Russia’s new naval frigate: “We believe that in terms of its tactical technical characteristics, this ship is no worse than NATO ships, and is even better [than them] in terms of … certain types of weapons.” (Channel 1, 11.23.18)
China-Russia: Allied or aligned?
- Russian news website Lenta.ru, citing The National Interest: “The Russian (Soviet) carrier-based Su-33 fighter jet is superior to its Chinese clone, the J-15 aircraft, in terms of reliability and engine power but inferior in its systems and equipment, writes the American magazine.” (Lenta.ru, 04.01.21)
- Russian tech news website CNet paraphrasing analysts at telephone handset retailer Svyaznoy: “In recent years, Chinese smartphones have often been no worse and, in terms of some technical characteristics, even better than the devices of first-tier brands—for example … in display resolution, battery life and camera resolution.” (CNet, 03.28.16)
- Press release from the governor’s office of the Primorye region in Russia’s Far East, noting that Chinese buyers have shown “great interest” in ice cream from the region: “In terms of quality, ice cream made from Russian raw materials is no worse and even better than imported products but costs one-fourth the price.” (Primorye Administration, 01.28.16)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin, referring to new Russian missile technologies and weapons systems: “In terms of their characteristics, they are not just no worse but often better than foreign models, and in a number of ways they are unique. … This has been confirmed in actual combat—during operations against terrorists in Syria.” (Izvestia, 05.27.21)
Nuclear arms control:
- No significant examples.
- Russia’s then Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak: "The level of [terrorist] threat in Sochi is no worse than in New York, Washington or Boston." (NTI, 02.07.14)
- Russia’s Shipunov Design Bureau, maker of high-precision weapons, on the significance of small arms and grenade launchers: “This class of weapons is the main one in conducting counterterrorism and police operations. … In terms of combat and ease of use the company’s models are better than or, at least, no worse than the best foreign analogues. A number of models have no analogues.” (Shipunov Design Bureau press office, 08.23.13)
Conflict in Syria:
- Russian news agency Interfax paraphrasing military-political analyst Vladimir Yevseyev: “[The war in Syria] has demonstrated that Russia is no worse than the U.S. in its ability to conduct a war in real time, and even better [than the U.S.] at using military diplomacy.” (Interfax-AVN, 12.11.17)
- Russian President Vladimir Putin, answering a question about Russian entrepreneurs comparable to Elon Musk: “We have Kaspersky. I think that, in his area, [he is] no worse.” (TASS, 03.05.21)
- News site of ITMO University in St. Petersburg, Russia: “Ultimately the developer designed a model that makes it possible to identify DGA domains [used by malware] and is absolutely no worse and even better than the Random Forest algorithm well-known in this area.” (ITMO News, 03.22.17)
Energy exports from CIS:
- Pavel Zavalny, chairman of the Russian State Duma’s Energy Committee: “As for Nord Stream 2, it is one of the ways to deliver gas. It is no worse and no better than the gas pipelines located between Great Britain and Europe, Nord Stream 1 or the Turkish pipeline, which run along the seabed, and in a concrete shell no less.” (Govorit Moskva, 05.28.21)
U.S.-Russian economic ties:
- No significant examples.
U.S.-Russian relations in general:
- Russian historian Vladimir Sogrin, professor of American studies affiliated with the Russian Academy of Sciences: “Overall, I was critical of [then President Barack] Obama’s speech. And for Putin it was demeaning because, as a personality, as a leader, Putin is by no means worse than Obama but even better than him. That said, I may not agree with Putin’s actual actions; but I’m in equal disagreement with Obama’s actual foreign policy. … [Even after Putin is gone there will be a Russian leader] who sees in Russia a worthy power, who believes that Russia has a national interest. Of course, it [Russia] is weaker than America, can’t compete with it, but that doesn’t mean it should be turned into a mere client of America.” (RFE/RL, 03.11.16)
II. Russia’s domestic policies
Domestic politics, economy and energy:
- On the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin: "I believe that we coped no worse than the world’s [other major] cities. And given the fact that we had much fewer restrictions, fewer lockdowns, the economy suffered less, I think we did even better." (TASS, 05.23.21)
- MK news website citing Novgorod’s chief regional infectious disease specialist Svetlana Kalach: “She said that, at the moment, Novgorodians are being vaccinated with three types of vaccines—Sputnik, EpiVac and KoviVak. All three drugs are no worse than American or European ones in terms of effectiveness and are all safe.” (MK Novgorod, 06.27.21)
- Margarita Simonyan, editor in chief of Russian broadcaster RT, comparing Russia’s healthcare system to America’s in the fight with COVID-19: “We have somewhere to run. Thirty percent of our hospital beds are free right now. We need to get used to the idea that in many ways, in terms of state social support, we live not just not worse but significantly better than there. And that’s exactly what explains our numbers [of morbidity and mortality].” (Lenta.ru, 05.15.20)
- Krasnodar media paraphrasing Russian doctor and TV personality Yevgeny Komarovsky about preventive measures against COVID-19: “Local horseradish is no worse than foreign ginger.” (Krasnodar Media, 05.14.20)
- Viktor Yevtukhov, Russia’s deputy minister of industry and trade: “Over the past two decades, domestic producers [of outdoor gear] have undergone really major modernization. And today our outdoor companies’ product is no worse in quality than Western analogues, while prices are a bit lower.” (Ministry of Industry and Trade, 07.16.15)
- State-run Rosatom corporation’s official website, describing the Efatom gamma-ray CT scanner: “In its clinical characteristics the apparatus’s gamma camera is no worse than foreign analogues.” (Rosatom’s official website, undated)
- NTV, reporting on a government meeting about palliative care chaired by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev: “The meeting took place on the grounds of the Moscow Endocrine Plant, which produces a broad assortment of socially significant medicines … as well as analgesics that are no worse than Western analogues.” (NTV, 06.27.19)
- Olesya Bunyayeva, director of the department for researching and promoting domestic wines at Roskachestvo, Russia’s state quality-assurance office, which in 2020 conducted a survey of the 130 “most popular” imported wines available in Russian stores: “We understand that Russian wine is not a drop worse than imported wine, while its cost is more affordable, since there are no additional logistical … or customs expenses.” (TASS, 08.05.21)
- Russian economists N.P. Gusakov and I.V. Andronova on weak government efforts to promote domestically produced goods: “The majority of Russians have formed a skeptical opinion toward domestic products when, in fact, in many groups of goods, Russian goods are not just no worse than foreign analogues but better than they are.” (National Interests: Priorities and Security, Issue 46, December 2014, p. 6)
- Adil Shirinov, general director of luxury carmaker Aurus: “For our [Russia’s] automobile industry this is a completely new turn in its history. Aurus has already proven, even at this early stage of the project, that it’s possible to create the most cutting-edge, high-tech products in Russia—for example, automobiles that are not inferior to foreign analogues in their concept, technical solutions and the quality and caliber of [the project’s] execution, and in some aspects … are even superior to them.” (Kommersant, 06.05.20)
- Russia’s then Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko: "Russia's [doping] problems are no worse than other countries’," but "whatever we do, everything is bad." (The Moscow Times, 11.10.15)
- Doctor for the Russian national soccer team, Eduard Bezuglov: “I can say that our regulations are in no way inferior to UEFA’s in terms of the safety of athletes.” (TASS, 07.17.20)
- Russian mixed-martial-arts fighter Alexander Emelianenko: “I want to say that our tournaments, the Russian ones, are in no way inferior to the tournament held here by the UFC [Ultimate Fighting Championship].” (TASS, 09.22.20.)
- Head of the Russian Meteo weather forecast center, Alexander Shuvalov, said Russian tornadoes are “no worse than” American tornadoes and urged fans of filming extreme weather to shoot from afar. (NSN, 08.03.21)
Defense and aerospace:
- Head of Rostec Sergei Chemezov: “I can say that our [defense] technology is no worse than European or American [defense technology]. Our products, in principle, are not inferior to Western ones in terms of tactical and technical characteristics, and they cost less.” (RT, 02.24.21)
- First deputy chief of the Main Staff of the Russian Navy, Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev: “The training of our special forces is absolutely no worse than the Americans’ and, in many respects, Russian soldiers have an advantage over them.” (RIA, 10.31.09)
- Russian news agency RIA citing military expert Viktor Murakhovsky about “doomsday” planes: “According to him, such technologies are currently available only to Russia and the United States. The expert added that the ones developed in Russia are in no way inferior to the American ones.” (RIA, 07.28.21)
- Russian news website INFOSMI, paraphrasing Vladimir Popov, a retired Air Force major general: “Our Su-30 and Su-32 are no worse than their American counterparts, and even better than them in many ways.” (INFOSMI, 05.06.21)
- News outlet Nation News, citing former chief of Russia’s anti-aircraft missile forces Sergei Khatylev: “The specialist noted that Russian transport helicopters are also very reliable and, in their characteristics, are no worse than American ones.” (Nation News, 09.06.20)
- Russian news agency RIA citing military expert Viktor Litovkin: “The expert noted that Moscow is not interested in the American [stealth fighter] technology, since Russia’s stealth system is no worse.” (RIA, 12.13.19)
- General director of Russia’s Foundation for Advanced Research (FPI), Andrei Grigoriev: “[DARPA’s] funding is about $3 billion a year, that is 100 billion rubles. Our sum is an order of magnitude less. But not everything is determined by funds. Here the key point is the ideas that are explored. I can say that, in terms of the quality of ideas and plans, we are absolutely not lagging behind America’s DARPA.” (TASS, 10.15.14)
- General director/chief designer of Russian Space Systems, Yuri Urlichich: “Glonass-K satellites are in no way inferior to American ones; Glonass-M satellites, however, are inferior for now.” (RIA, 05.25.11)
- Roman Gusarov, editor in chief of Avia.ru, a Russian aviation-news website: “If you look at [the Tu-154’s] accidents and crashes in terms of total flight hours, it is no worse than Western analogues.” (Gazeta.ru, 12.25.16)
Security, law-enforcement and justice:
- Vladimir Putin, as prime minister: "I wouldn’t say that our legal system … is any worse than the Anglo-American system… In some ways, it is even better." (Foreign Policy, 09.23.11)
- Yevgeny Gershkovich, rescue diver, Moscow City Search and Rescue Service: “I always thought that divers from abroad were top-notch specialists. Grass is always greener, I guess… But once I met [our] partners from abroad I realized that our [Russian] divers are absolutely no worse and sometimes even better than foreigners are.” (Moskovskaya Pravda, 09.03.20)
III. Russia’s relations with other countries
Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with “far abroad” countries:
- No significant examples.
- Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources Mykhailo Khorev: “There’s really nothing to be afraid of yet. We can’t say that our [rivers’] condition is much worse than our neighbors’ in Europe.” (Open4Business, 08.02.21)
- Secretary of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Oleksandr Turchynov, speaking about the Centaur assault boat: “It is no worse than NATO boats of this class. It is a powerful weapon.” (Strana, 09.14.18)
Russia's other post-Soviet neighbors:
- Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko: “The press, and even officials, have complained about Belarussian shrimp, caviar, other things. It’s a good thing—we should be happy that Belarussians have learned to produce both black and red caviar. Well done! Yes, under artificial conditions, but it’s no worse than, say, in other countries.” (Sputnik, 01.30.18)
- Belarussian news agency Belta: “About 70% of mothers prefer domestically produced baby food. Belarussians choose ‘their own’ product because it is often more affordable and at the same time no worse (and sometimes even better) than imported analogues, according to many experts.” (Belta, 04.15.19)
- Kazakh political analyst Aidar Amrebayev, writing in honor of Kazakhstan’s Constitution Day: “Marco Polo … showed ‘enlightened Europe’ that the Mongol empire was no worse than it, and in many ways even better—first and foremost, in its cultural and spiritual development.” (InBusiness.kz, 08.30.21)
- “А нас, россиян, благословляя, благословил бог хлебом и мёдом и всяких питей довольством. Водок у нас такое довольство, что и числа им нет, пива у нас предорогие и Мёды у нас преславные вареные самые чистые, что ничем не хуже ренского, а плохово ренсково и гораздо лучше.”
Examples compiled by RM student associate Laszlo Herwitz, with contributions by RM staff.
Photo by Pingvingosha shared under a Creative Commons license.