Contestable Claims

Far too often we see a significant gap between Russia-related claims, even by top officials and respected authors, and the reality on the ground. We also often encounter a wide divergence in expert views on crucial policy questions related to Russia. This section has two basic aims: (1) to dispel misconceptions that could adversely affect the quality of U.S. policy toward Russia, particularly when vital U.S. interests are involved, through rigorous fact-checking where possible and (2) to identify and debate key dilemmas for decision-makers per the adage that “truth is born in argument.”

We invite you to explore the section and send us more claims to fact-check or debate using the rectangular red button below. (For most fact-checks, we’ve adopted the "traffic light" rating system: red for incorrect; yellow for partially correct; green for correct.)

Debate: Can Russia Be a Viable Counterterrorism Partner for the United States?

February 08, 2018
RM Staff
Aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, April 15, 2013.

The upcoming fifth anniversary of the deadly Boston Marathon bombing serves as a reminder that U.S.-Russian counterterrorism cooperation was not easy even when the general relationship between the two countries was better than today. While no one disputes that Russia’s Federal Security Service sent information to the FBI about one of the perpetrators, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, back in 2011, U.S. officials have complained that Russia did not provide sufficient follow-up information and Moscow has responded that it gave all it had. In the decade before the bombing, the United States had been more interested in Russian intelligence sharing on al-Qaida, while Russia wanted information on émigré or exiled Chechens whom they suspected of supporting violent separatism—a disparity that complicated counterterrorism discussions.

We at Russia Matters have long believed that some of the most crucial questions related to U.S policies toward Russia have no easy answers and deserve to be debated by knowledgeable experts. Whether the U.S. should treat Russia as a viable counterterrorism partner is one such question. The two articles below attempt to answer it.

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Claim in 2017: "Russia has doubled its fighting power on its Western border.”

Partially Correct: While Russia has fielded additional units in the military districts flanking its western border since 2014, the forces have not doubled; they’ve grown by a smaller degree, ranging from 13 to 50 percent depending on the military unit counted. (Fact-check done in February 2018.)
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Claim in 2017: “In terms of per capita income, Russia ranks 73rd (in terms of purchasing power parity)…”

Partially Correct: While the CIA ranks Russia 73rd, the country's lowest ranking from either the World Bank or IMF in their most recent data is 52nd. (Fact-check done in April 2017.)
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Claim in 2017: Russians’ “life expectancy at birth ranks 153rd in the world, just behind Honduras and Kazakhstan.”

Correct: That is the most recent ranking, given by the CIA. Slightly older World Bank and U.N. rankings came close. (Fact-check done in April 2017.)
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Claim in 2017: "Because we [the U.S.] have stood firm, Russia is now—despite the boasts of its leaders—plagued by dwindling financial reserves, a historically weak ruble and poor international relations."

Partially Correct: At the time of this statement the Russian ruble was stronger versus the U.S. dollar than at any time since Fall 2015. (Fact-check done in January 2017.)
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Claim in 2016: Russia’s “economy doesn’t produce anything that anybody wants to buy, except oil and gas and arms.”

Partially Correct: Russia also successfully sells goods and services in the space and nuclear-power industries. (Fact-check done in December 2016.)
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Claim in 2016: Russia’s GDP contracted by 40% between 2013 and 2015. Its economy is now half the size of Great Britain’s.

Partially Correct: Correct only when measured in current USD without adjusting for inflation or other variations. (Fact-check done in November 2016.)
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Claim in 2014: Immigrants aren’t rushing to Moscow in search of opportunity.

Incorrect: Russia’s international migrant population is the world’s third largest. (Fact-check done in October 2016.)
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Claims in 2015-2016: Russia is internationally isolated.

Partially Correct: This is debatable. (Fact-check done in September 2016.)
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Claims in 2014 and 2016: Life expectancy in Russia is falling.

Incorrect: It has been rising since 2003. (Fact-check done in September 2016.)
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