Daily Archives: April 7, 2008

April 7, 2008 — Contents

MONDAY APRIL 7 CONTENTS

(1) EDITORIAL: “Russophobia” and its “Critics”

(2) A Ticking Time Bomb: The Horror of Russian Racism

(3) Confronting Vladimir Putin

(4) Annals of Russian Barbarism: Killing the Messenger

(5) Medvedev: A Docile President for a Docile Country

(6) Russians up to Their Old Tricks in Sunny Miami

NOTE: Oleg Gordievsky may have been poisoned in a Litvinenko-like attack.

NOTE: Kim Zigfeld’s latest installment on Pajamas Media analyzes the data provided by the brilliant Paul Goble in #2 above. Check out the shocking implications, and feel free to leave your comments about how the world can best respond to this crisis in the making in Russia. Publius Pundit has more, linking the data to consequences in Chechnya. Two more of our latest installments on Publius Pundit document Russia’s final crackdown on democracy, wiping out the people’s ability to conduct a binding referendum, and its blatant efforts to provoke a new cold war by sending attack submarines to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela even as Russia dares to hypocritically demand that the U.S. not meddle in Russia’s “sphere of influence” by expanding NATO. Comments on how best to respond to these amazing outrages are welcome over at Publius.

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EDITORIAL: "Russophobia" and its "Critics"

EDITORIAL

“Russophobia” and its “Critics”

It’s rare to see the Europeans outfight determined enemies and seize such a one-sided victory as they did last week in Romania at the NATO summit. Not only did Europe admit two new countries from the former Soviet bloc into NATO’s protective embrace, not only did it unify behind the American proposal to arm the whole of Eastern Europe with a defensive missile shield that would dramatically undercut the potency of Russia’s IBCM strikeforce, not only did it have Ukraine and Georgia jubilant over firm guarantees of future NATO admission that were more than they dared hope for, but Europe managed it all while checkmating Vladimir Putin on the PR front, denying him any justification for his threatened boycott of the event. He came crawling to them despite it all, just like a trusty pooch.

Given all this humiliating failure, it’s not at all surprising to see the scurrying cockroaches of russophilia issuing forth at their Master’s command like Orcs from Mordor, desperately seeking to rationalize and cloak it. Hence, last week we saw the repugnant Peter Lavelle screeching ludicrously in the Moscow Times, and later in the week there was more mendacity in store on the paper’s pages. Truly, the juicy cherry on top of this rich sundae of defeat for Putin is witnessing the pathetically lame character of his defenders. We just can’t seem to wipe these silly grins off our faces. It’s been a good week to be La Russophobe. Weeks like these, we almost feel we should be paying for the privilege of putting out this blog (you didn’t see that, K.Z.!).

Last Thursday’s edition of the the paper carried an op-ed piece by one Andrei Tsygankov, identified as associate professor of international relations at San Francisco State University. It’s always obscure places you’ve never heard of and can hardly believe exist, like “San Francisco State University,” that seem to produce the wackos who will seek to rationalize Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin.

Let’s poke fun at this malignant, evil little moron, shall we?

Professor Tsyganokov’s employer, SFSU, has a pretty unimpressive website that looks like it was cobbled together by a troop of drunken apes. It explains that it’s one of 23 schools operated by the State of California and boasts moonbat actor Danny Glover as an alumni. It has about 20,000 full-time undergraduate students, 94% of whom come from California.

If you Google him, you can find his professional website and his disturbingly weird photograph, at left (he actually looks carcinogenic, doesn’t he? bet you can’t stare at him for more than ten seconds without getting the creeps!). You’ll learn that he’s Russian, with a degree from Moscow State University and a PhD ten years later (eight years ago) from USC. For some reason, he chose to stay in the United States after completing his degree rather than return home to Russia and dispense his illumination in that Putinite Paradise. But really, you can find out all you really need to know about him with a simple Google search that will tell you he’s great pals with that loathsome reptile and Russia Today collaborator Lavelle.

He lists prior publication of his “analysis” in such forums as “Asia Times, Johnson Russia List, Korea Herald, Los Angeles Times, and Russia Profile.” Not surprising to find a Russophile like this spewing out his dreck on the pages of Kremlin-controlled Russia Profile, we must say, and bragging about getting your stuff on the JRL and in the Korea Herald and Asia Times bespeaks a non-entity. Strangely, when we searched through his list of publications, we didn’t find any entry for the Los Angeles Times. So we tooled over to the LAT’s website and slugged the good Professor into their search engine. Turns out there was one piece eight years ago. Woo-woo.

The upshot is that he’s a garden-variety, drumbeat Russophile, telling us how Vladimir Putin is oh-so reasonable, really he is, and you’ve just got to give him a chance and get to know him, really you do, and then everything will be just fine.

So let’s review his “argument” point by point and help him look even more ridiculous than he already does.

You know he’s a real weasel because, while lecturing us “russophobes” about the error of our ways, he never pauses for a single second to ask whether his own russophilia might be in any way negative — nor does he ever ask what Russians might have done to justify foreign hostility.

You know he’s not a scholar because he makes no attempt to define his key term, “russophobia” — and indeed it’s easy to question his scholarship merely because he chooses to use that term rather than a more appropriately scholarly one. It really makes him seem more like a Goebbelsian propagandist, doesn’t it?

First he states: “U.S. politicians can hardly claim that they know a lot about Russia. Unable to even pronounce names of Russia’s leading politicians, many in the U.S. establishment are nevertheless convinced of Russia’s inherent propensity to violate its own citizens’ rights and bully other nations.” Hillary Clinton flubbed Medvedev’s name once. And based on this, this so-called “political scientist” concludes that no American leader can pronounce any Russian bigwig’s name. See, this is why this guy is working at a place like SFSU. Basically, he begins his call for the absence of personalized attacks on Russians with a personal attack on Americans. And he finishes with one too: “Winston Churchill once commented that U.S. politicians ‘always do the right thing in the end. They just like to exhaust all the alternatives first.’ If this indeed is the case, we will not see a framework for meaningful cooperation with Russia any time soon.” In other words, we’re a nation of morons. Thank goodness we have an enlightened Russian among us to educate us.

Nice, huh? Think he commented on how much Putin and Medvedev really know about the United States? Think again. Think he asked how many American associate professors are on staff at Russian state universities, teaching Russians about politics? Dream on.

Next, he writes:

The attacks on Putin and President-elect Dmitry Medvedev are widely supported in mainstream U.S. media. This demagoguery also extends to scholarly publications, such as “The New Cold War” by Edward Lucas, who claims that “Russia’s vengeful, xenophobic and ruthless rulers have turned the sick man of Europe into a menacing bully.” Just published, the book is getting a lot of publicity and is treated as a serious treatise by influential organizations, such as the Council on Foreign Relations.

Gosh. Sounds like he’s a bit jealous of Edward’s “publicity,” doesn’t it? The great reviews Edward has received around the world probably don’t do much for his ego, either. We put it to you, dear reader, that no reasonable person can seriously question the application of the adjectives “xenophobic” or “ruthless” or “vengeful” to Vladimir Putin, and that this slanderous attack on Edward should disqualify this nasty little troll from employment at any American university. And let us ask you, dear reader: If the Kremlin had written this paragraph, how would it have been different? Should we really be trusting this Russian to tell us how to safeguard our security against Russia? Would that be wise?

Then there’s this:

Despite the anti-Russia rhetoric, many U.S. politicians feel that Russia doesn’t matter in the global arena. Instead, they are preoccupied with other international issues, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. But Russia should matter, particularly in a world of new security threats and growing energy competition. The attitude of ignorance and self-righteousness toward Russia tells us volumes about the U.S. unpreparedness for the central challenges of the 21st century.

The signal hallmark of the Russophile yahoo is that he can’t make up his mind. Which is it, “professor”? Is Russia being ignored, or hated? Only very little children try to have it both ways. Scholars are supposed to be able to make up their minds. This guy must be murder in an ice cream shop.

Then he really goes of into the stratosphere:

Russophobia’s revival is indicative of the fear shared by some U.S. and European politicians that their grand plans to control the world’s most precious resources and geostrategic sites may not succeed if Russia’s economic and political recovery continues.

So get this: It’s crazy “russophobia” to believe that Russia is trying to use energy as a weapon, notwithstanding the fact that that the country is governed by a proud career KGB spy. But it’s perfectly scientific to believe that the U.S. and Europe are doing so. Logic of this kind really makes you stop and question your russophobia, doesn’t it?

Here’s the sine qua non:

One Russophobic group, exemplified by McCain, includes military hawks or advocates of U.S. hegemony who fought the Cold War not to contain the Soviet enemy but to destroy it by all means available. The second group is made up of “liberal hawks” who have gotten comfortable with the weakened and submissive Russia of the 1990s. They have an agenda of promoting U.S.-style democracy and market economy. The fact that the Soviet threat no longer exists has only strengthened their sense of superiority.

He’s saying that both liberals and conservatives agree that Russia is a threat to Western security and values — and both of them are crazy, and we should listen to the KGB spy who runs Russia, because he’s right about everything and would never lie to us.

They smoke some pretty impressive wacky weed out there in Frisco, don’t they now?

He tells us that if Eastern Europe is worried about Russian aggression, it is insane — but if Russia is worried about Western European aggression, it is only expressing rational and legitimate concern.

Then, you have to hand it to him, he finishes with a flourish:

Russophobia is not in U.S. national interests and is not supported by the American public. Various polls demonstrate that Americans do not agree with the assessment that Russia is a threat to the United States’ values and interests. A recent BBC World Service poll revealed, for example, that 45 percent of Americans have a mainly positive attitude regarding Russia’s influence in the world, compared with 36 percent who have a mainly negative attitude.

He seems to have forgotten that he started out by condemning Americans for their ignorance about Russia, so it’s hardly possibly now to tout their informed approval of Russia. But this kind of ridiculous, embarrassing duplicity and hypocrisy has never stopped the Soviet propagandist in the past, so no reason to start being reasonable or consistent now.

Citing the poll is a classic example of the type of mendacity that characterizes these neo-Soviet propagandists, it’s the mother of all straw-man arguments. If polls showed that 100% of Americans were hostile to Russia, then he would simply say that they must be reeducated. His implication that if a majority of Americans supported a crackdown against Russia then he would to is so dishonest that it’s unworthy of any accredited American university to employ such a person.

And his dishonesty doesn’t end there. That same poll showed that “views of Russia are predominantly negative in all European countries polled except Britain.” The “professor” ignores this. More than a third of Americans had a “mainly negative” view of Russia, a figure that had not changed from the prior poll. The “professor” ignores this too. And most of all, he ignores the fact that the poll showed a majority of Russians had a strongly negative view of the United States, while only a tiny fraction were positive — yet he’s asking the U. S. to make conciliatory gestures towards this nation by which it is despised, asking us to trust him that if we do Russia won’t take advantage but will simply stop hating us. That’s the strategy Chamberlain urged in dealing with Hitler.

The good “professor” then complains that “thousands of reports in the mainstream U.S. media implicate the Kremlin and Putin personally in murdering opposition journalists and defected spies. Only a handful of reports in less prominent outlets question such interpretations.” The only conclusion this “scientist” can reach is that the small group is obviously right and the large group is obviously wrong. He ignores the fact that it’s not only the media that has blamed Putin for the Litvinenko killing, but Scotland Yard. Britain has indicted a man who is accused of being a Kremlin operative, and of using a rare radioactive poison made in Russia to commit the murder — and Russia has not only refused to extradite that killer but has elected him into the Duma.

The “professor” forgets to tell anyone about any of that. Kind of makes you wonder what else he might be forgetting to mention in his classrooms.

Throughout this entire screed, not one single word about any mistake Russia might possibly have made in any of its policies during Putin’s term in office. Not a word about Russia buzzing the U.S and Britain with strategic bombers though neither is doing the same to Russia. Not a peep about Russia’s barbaric attempts to interfere in the domestic politics of Estonia, Ukraine and Georgia. Not a single syllable about the recent statement by a Russian general that Russia wouldn’t hesitate to be the first to use nuclear weapons in battle. Not so much as a phrase about Russia’s jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, drafting of Oleg Kozlovsky, exile of Natalya Morar.

This scary little bald weirdo sits in his comfy repose in San Francisco, far from any of Russia’s risks, and lectures us on how to conduct our foreign policy with a country whose security is obviously far more important to him than ours. Care to take a guess how many such persons are employed by Russian universities?

Yup, the number is the same as this maniac’s IQ.

FOOTNOTE: We did something we almost never do in cases like this, namely we wrote to Professor Tsyganokov and asked him to respond to some of our concerns. We specifically asked him to defend what we view as his straw-man argument regarding the opinion poll, and we asked whether he’d ever written anything in the Russian press calling on his countrymen to be more reasonable towards America. We also asked whether he could refer us to an American with “associate professor” status at Russian state university who was teaching Russians about politics. His response? Total silence. This is what happens when you try to go the extra mile with a russophile.

FOOTNOTE: Scraps of Moscow rips this idiot several new ones as well. Nice work there, Lindy!

A Ticking Time Bomb: The Horror of Russian Racism Unbound

Paul Goble reports:

Russian skinheads are attacking non-Russians in ever increasing numbers both to intimidate the latter and to recruit additional people to their movement, thus extending “a mass fascist terror” throughout the country, according to the chief editor of Moscow’s Novaya gazeta. Speaking on Ekho Moskvy on Wednesday, Dmitry Muratov pointed out that over the last three months “fascists [in the Russian Federation] have killed 38 people and wounded 113 more,” and they have advertised what they have done in order to scare some and “recruit” others. Indeed, he warned, what is taking place in Moscow and elsewhere in the Russian Federation must be described as “a recruitment campaign for a fascist army.”

But as disturbing as that development is, Muratov said, even more worrisome is the failure of the Russian government and especially the FSB to combat it. “Where is the FSB?” the editor asked rhetorically. Can anyone really believe that its officials “do not know about the massive actions” of the last month? Others, including the SOVA Analytic Center whose documentation of these attacks Novaya gazeta has published, have issued similar warnings. But Muratov’s comment is particularly important because he describes the way the “fascists” are now seeking to frighten off journalists who try to cover this wave of violence. After his paper carried an article at the end of last month on skinhead attacks , its author, journalist Valery Shiryayev, received a series of threats. Listen, he was told, “you are a puppet,” working for other unspecified forces. “You do not deserve to live,” the hate messages continued. “Death to the kikes, glory to Russia. Russia for the Russians. Success to all who struggle. Zieg Heil!” Muratov said that his newspaper had reported all this to the authorities, including the FSB, which has primary responsibility for responding to such attacks.

Unfortunately, he said, that agency has done little or nothing to stop what is going on, raising questions as to whether the FSB is doing its job, penetrating such fascist groups or whether at least some of its officers view these groups as “socially close” to the intelligence service, its virtual allies.

Given both the attacks on minorities and the threats journalists who cover them have received, Muratov was asked by his host whether he had ever considered seeking political asylum abroad, much as Elena Tregubova, the author of an insider’s account on the Kremlin, received this week in Great Britain. The Novaya gazeta editor responded that he had never considered this possibility for himself. “That would be “impossible. We will continue to work here.” But he did make several comments about the Tregubova case that highlight just how bad things now are in Russia and how implicated the Russian elite is in this deterioration. Muratov said that some “among the so-called Russian elite” will be pleased, not only because Tregubova won’t be around to describe them any more but also because her arrival in London will send property prices there down since it has become “dangerous” for Russians to live next to someone with “principled views who does not conceal them.” While Tregubova’s desire for asylum is completely understandable given the nature of the Putin regime, Muratov’s continuing effort to combat this rising tide of fascism in the Russian Federation is not only noble but calls out for the kind of support from the West that he and others like him often do not get. And that is all the more so because his comments about the threats his journalist has received show that he understands, as Pastor Niemuller did in Nazi Germany, that attacks on “people from the Caucasus” can lead to attacks against Jews and against Russians who are prepared to speak out against such viciousness.

It’s a powder keg waiting to explode. He continues:

One in every four Moscow residents now is an illegal immigrant, according to the chairman of the city’s legislative assembly, although Vladimir Platonov acknowledges that neither he nor anyone else knows the exact figure which various experts say is between one and three million people. During a program on Ekho Moskvy on Tuesday, Platonov said both the number of illegal immigrants in his city and the lack of reliable statistics about them were unacceptable, and he called for new laws to deal with the situation in order to protect the rights of those living in the capital legally. His remarks came as the time limit for one of measures the city has tried to deal with the situation ran out. At the end of February, Moscow officials had announced that illegal migrants had a month to come “out of the shadow” by paying 2,000 rubles (80 U.S. dollars) for registration.

For three reasons, only a few hundred took advantage of this special offer. First, many do not want to pay the taxes that they would face if they were legal. Second, their employers are happy to keep them in an illegal status so they can pay them less. And third, many of them know that only one-third of Moscow’s legal immigrants have jobs. In addition to this program, the city government has taken several other steps. It has succeeded in having its quota for new immigrants cut from 500,000 last year to only 250,000 in 2008, a dramatic reduction that may give the authorities a chance to get a handle on illegal immigrants. Moreover, the city has developed special plastic cards for legal immigrants and required that employers make sure that they hire only those who can show these or other evidence of legal residence. And the authorities have increased the number of militia roundups of illegals.

But despite those efforts and Platonov’s call for even more draconian legislation, many Russian commentators and groups argue that the city is not doing enough to cope with an influx that they view not only as unacceptable but as a direct threat to their way of life. Aleksandr Belov, the coordinator of the openly racist Movement against Illegal Immigration (DPNI), said that Platonov’s efforts would do little or nothing to solve the problems he said illegal immigrants pose. His solution? A crackdown on officials who take bribes in order to “close their eyes” to the presence of illegal immigrants. Belov has a point: Ever since Mayor Yuri Luzhkov issued his infamous directive in October 1993 to expel from the city of Moscow “persons of Caucasus nationality,” many militiamen in the Russian capital have routinely supplemented their income by extorting money from non-Russian groups. Other commentators, like Vladimir Zharikhin, the deputy director of the Moscow Institute of CIS Countries, argue that there is no single magic bullet that will end the problem. Instead, they say, the city and the federal government must combine a variety of strategies if they are to rein in what even Platonov sees as a program now out of control.

It is not clear that officials at any level are ready to do that, and consequently, the problems related to illegal immigration, including increasingly frequent and violent clashes between them and Russian skinheads, seem certain to continue and possibly even grow worse.
And one reason for such a conclusion is that Moscow is no longer the only magnet for such illegal immigrants. In St. Petersburg, according to a recent report, 40 percent of the guest workers are illegal, a figure that may be even higher than their share in the Russian capital.

Confronting Vladimir Putin

Writing in the International Herald Tribune Oksana Chelysheva (pictured), a Russian journalist and the director of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation for the Promotion of Tolerance and a spokeswoman for the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, calls upon U.S. President George Bush to confront Vladimir Putin’s neo-Soviet dictatorship:

As President George W. Bush prepares to meet with President Vladimir Putin and President-elect Dimitry Medvedev in Sochi on Sunday, I hope he will remember the pledge he made in his second inaugural address in 2005. In that memorable speech, he promised that the United States would not ignore oppression and that it would stand with those who stand for liberty.

Thousands of Russians like myself have been speaking out and standing up for liberty and paying a heavy price. Some of us, like Anna Politkovskaya, have paid the ultimate price. The rest of us have suffered threats, defamation in the media, physical assault, fabricated prosecution and interference or obstruction of our work.

We hope that Bush will not excuse our oppressors, who act in the name of Putin.

There used to be a time when reforms announced in Russia promised to empower citizens and take Russia on a democratic path. Many people inside Russia and abroad wanted to believe it.

What reality do we face now? Freedom of speech in Russia has been curtailed to the size of a poppy seed. The Kremlin has allowed the existence of a few independent media outlets as a cover for its systematic destruction of free journalism. Political prisoners are becoming a common reality: Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the Yukos prisoners; scientists accused of espionage; Muslims, many of whom have been accused of supporting extremism only because they practice their religion; people in Russian cities who dare to take to the streets in hope that their voices will be heard. They are being beaten up by baton-wielding police. They are being taken into custody. They are being charged with absurd accusations of assaulting the police force. They are being subjected to enforced psychiatric treatment. The last two election campaigns in Russia, both parliamentary and presidential, were nothing but a mockery. The main purpose of our elections has been to secure the authoritarian regime that is being created in Russia.

The situation in my home town of Nizhny Novgorod, the third biggest city in Russia, located some 300 miles from Moscow, is a perfect example of the real face of the Kremlin. It started with persecution of our small human right group, the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society that was closed down in January 2007. It continued with breaking up peaceful protests during the Marches of Dissent in March. The authorities deployed 20,000 police and military troops against an expected 2,000 protesters.

In August 2007, the police raided the offices of our new Russian organization, the Foundation to Promote Tolerance, and the Nizhny Novgorod edition of the newspaper, Novaya Gazeta and confiscated all the computers. In October 2007, they disrupted our attempt to hold a meeting in memory of Anna Politkovskaya. They even detained foreign guests who dared to come to the city.

The repression continues. On March 20, the police carried out simultaneous searches in the homes of some 20 residents of Nizhny Novgorod and the region as well as in the office of the Nizhny Novgorod Foundation to Promote Tolerance. They have again confiscated all equipment, including cell phones and DVD players, claiming that they are combating extremism.

Dozens of grave crimes against the peaceful citizens of our country have remained anonymous and unaccounted for.

We are guilty of electing a president who, in the words of a group representing the victims of the 2004 Beslan tragedy, solves his problems by using tanks, flame-throwers and gas.

But it is not our fault that the political elite of the world gives uncritical support to our president. I hope that Bush will not join them.

A few weeks ago, I was in Prague meeting with Vaclav Havel and dissidents from around the world. Havel understands that those who stand up for liberty in Putin’s Russia are engaged in the same struggle as dissidents in Cuba, Burma, Iran, or North Korea, countries that Bush has found easy to criticize in public for their violations of human rights. Will he do less for us when he visits Russia?

We are committed to human rights and non-violence. We stand for liberty, but we suffer oppression from our government. Unfortunately, the Russian authorities seem determined to make an example of us, presumably to intimidate others who share our views so that they think twice before speaking out.

I am calling on you, President Bush, not to avert your eyes from the many Russian citizens in Grozny, Nasran, Beslan, Volgodonsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Moscow, Murmansk, and Saint Petersburg who feel neglected and ignored in both their protests and suffering. Please stand with us as you meet with our oppressor.

Annals of Russian Barbarism: Killing the Messenger

The Other Russia reports:

A political expert who reported on violations in recent Russian elections and even took the electoral commission to court has been assaulted and beaten in the city of Dolgoprudny, some 20 kilometers north of Moscow. Grigory Belonuchkin, who works for the Panorama Analytical Center, believes that the attack is connected with his outspoken criticism of violations during the December 2007 Parliamentary elections in Russia.

According to Andrei Buzin, one of Belonuchkin’s colleagues, the analyst was lured from his apartment by unknown men who called up and asked to speak with him on an important matter. When he came to the street, he was thrown on the ground and kicked on his torso and his head. He is in stable condition, and is recovering from his injuries.

Belonuchkin is currently engaged in a court case on elections violations against a local territorial electoral commission (TEC). The case, launched on March 19th, involves a questionable vote recount that took place at polling station 306 on the night of December 2nd to the 3rd. The court is trying to determine why the figures of the recount were so drastically different from the original numbers. The recount raised the number of ballots distributed from 740 to 998, upping voter turnout for the pro-Kremlin ­United Russia party from 54.4% to 82.4%, and lowered the number of cancelled ballots from 258 to one.

Igor Pantyushin, an observer from the Communist Party who spent the day at the polling station in question, testified that the initial count was correct, and that 258 blank ballots were annulled when the voting station closed.

Belonuchkin launched the investigation after word from two independent political parties that their counts differed from the official figures.

Electoral monitors have accused electoral officials of widespread fraud during both the December 2007 State Duma and March 2008 Presidential elections in Russia. Recorded violations include electoral manipulation and fraud, ballot stuffing, pressure on voters, misuse of resources on the part of the administration, and the administrative “cleanup” of all politicians not under the Kremlin’s control from the political landscape.

The Other Russia opposition coalition has not recognized the results of the Parliamentary and Presidential elections. The group has scheduled a meeting of the “National Assembly,” an alternative Parliament, for May 17th-18th.

Medvedev: A Docile "President" for a Docile Russia

Writing in the New Republic Michael Idov, a contributing editor at New York magazine and the editor-in-chief of RUSSIA! magazine, exposes the fraud that is Dmitri Medvedev

Minutes after the polls closed on March 2 in the westernmost Russian city of Kaliningrad–certifying a blowout victory by presidential candidate Dmitri Anatolyevich Medvedev, handpicked heir to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin– the men of the hour made an appearance at a massive concert underway in Red Square. As broadcast by NTV, a television channel owned by Gazprom (where Medvedev chairs the board of directors), the scene looked like something out of Mission: Impossible. A low-placed camera tracked alongside Putin and Medvedev, dressed Kremlin Casual in a boxy leather jacket (Dima) and a parka (Volodya), as they strode, to a rock beat, across the convex cobblestone expanse of the square. The shot’s director, perhaps taking another cue from Tom Cruise movies, had removed background extras or anything else the eye could use to calibrate the heroes’ heights: Medvedev is 5’4″ to Putin’s 5’7″. The action duo climbed onto the stage, and Medvedev–a professed headbanger who had had a box reserved at the Led Zeppelin reunion show in London on the day Putin named him his successor–got to live out a rock ‘n’ roll moment. He grabbed the mic and yelled “Privet, Rossiya! Privet, Moskva!” (the Russian equivalent of “Hello, Cleveland”). The square went wild. His fervor subsiding, the president-elect segued into an anodyne victory speech about the need to “fortify stability” and “improve quality of life.” The crowd began chanting “Con-grats! Con-grats!”–an unusually impersonal choice of a mantra. Medvedev passed the microphone to his benefactor, and the chant immediately changed. “Pu-tin! Pu-tin! PU-TIN!!!” Medvedev politely smiled.

This episode is likely to repeat, in one form or another, throughout the first months and even years of Medvedev’s rule. If it seems as if Russia has elected a man nobody knows anything about, it’s because Russia, with a complacency easily mistakable for contentedness, didn’t really elect Dmitri Medvedev at all. It reelected Vladimir Putin, in the way Tibetan monks pick the same Dalai Lama each time, regardless of the human form he’s taken. The rubber- stamping of the Kremlin candidate illuminates a useful truth about Russian society: Putin’s stifling regime and the country’s oil-fueled prosperity are viewed not as unrelated phenomena but as cause and effect. Medvedev, even as he formally represents the end of that regime, is also its ultimate triumph.

Minutes after the polls closed on March 2 in the westernmost Russian city of Kaliningrad–certifying a blowout victory by presidential candidate Dmitri Anatolyevich Medvedev, handpicked heir to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin– the men of the hour made an appearance at a massive concert underway in Red Square. As broadcast by NTV, a television channel owned by Gazprom (where Medvedev chairs the board of directors), the scene looked like something out of Mission: Impossible. A low-placed camera tracked alongside Putin and Medvedev, dressed Kremlin Casual in a boxy leather jacket (Dima) and a parka (Volodya), as they strode, to a rock beat, across the convex cobblestone expanse of the square. The shot’s director, perhaps taking another cue from Tom Cruise movies, had removed background extras or anything else the eye could use to calibrate the heroes’ heights: Medvedev is 5’4″ to Putin’s 5’7″. The action duo climbed onto the stage, and Medvedev–a professed headbanger who had had a box reserved at the Led Zeppelin reunion show in London on the day Putin named him his successor–got to live out a rock ‘n’ roll moment. He grabbed the mic and yelled “Privet, Rossiya! Privet, Moskva!” (the Russian equivalent of “Hello, Cleveland”). The square went wild. His fervor subsiding, the president-elect segued into an anodyne victory speech about the need to “fortify stability” and “improve quality of life.” The crowd began chanting “Con-grats! Con-grats!”–an unusually impersonal choice of a mantra. Medvedev passed the microphone to his benefactor, and the chant immediately changed. “Pu-tin! Pu-tin! PU-TIN!!!” Medvedev politely smiled.

This episode is likely to repeat, in one form or another, throughout the first months and even years of Medvedev’s rule. If it seems as if Russia has elected a man nobody knows anything about, it’s because Russia, with a complacency easily mistakable for contentedness, didn’t really elect Dmitri Medvedev at all. It reelected Vladimir Putin, in the way Tibetan monks pick the same Dalai Lama each time, regardless of the human form he’s taken. The rubber- stamping of the Kremlin candidate illuminates a useful truth about Russian society: Putin’s stifling regime and the country’s oil-fueled prosperity are viewed not as unrelated phenomena but as cause and effect. Medvedev, even as he formally represents the end of that regime, is also its ultimate triumph.

Putin’s historic achievement is the creation, in eight short years, of what the chief Kremlin ideologist Vladislav Surkov terms suverennaya demokratiya (“sovereign democracy”) and what’s been rechristened, in liberal circles, suvenirnaya demokratiya: “souvenir democracy.” In brief, this system consists of a narrow executive silo–about 50 Putin insiders spread out among government agencies–through which all policy is funneled, and a collection of decorative Western-style institutions pivoting around it. The fat around Putin’s lean machine includes a costly, tautological United Russia party structure, useless regional governments (since 2004, the president appoints governors directly), and an equally useless State Duma, the lower house of the parliament. Under the rules imposed just in time for last December’s parliamentary election, voters now pick between parties, as opposed to individual delegates–and Putin’s status as the head of United Russia happened to put his name at the top of every ballot. You thus voted not for parliamentary representation but for something called “Putin’s Plan.” A United Russia landslide ensued, helped along by epidemic poll fraud: The official ballot counts amusingly spike on every round number (70, 80, 90), a pattern possible only with furious rounding-up. By January of 2008, newspapers began dropping the name “United Russia” from articles. What Russia had was, once again, The Party.

In the absence of any real legislative work, United Russia delegates are often businessmen pursuing tiny goals–importers out to lower a specific tariff, radio-station owners with sights on a particular frequency–or absurd celebrities who have pledged loyalty to the party. A notorious photo of twentysomething gymnasts-cum-lawmakers Svetlana Khorkina and Alina Kabaeva depicts them cavorting in the chamber like bored schoolchildren in the back of a classroom. In the run-up to the December election, many seats were bought and sold for the attendant perks, which include an apartment in Moscow, immunity against criminal investigation, and five aide positions to fill as one wishes. At least two sources tag the price of a Duma seat at around $1 million, 50 percent of which is instantly recoupable: Those aide spots go at $100,000 a pop.

Besides corrupting older institutions, the party feeds superfluous newer ones like Nashi–a politicized “youth movement” with its own network of mildly brainwashing camps (and a sprawling website that disseminates newsflashes like “Garry Kasparov’s SUV ran over a young fan”). It may sound sinister, and its name, meaning “Ours,” is terribly unfortunate–Nashist sounds like both “Nazi” and “fascist”–but, in truth, Nashi is a deeply dopey fund-waster. A quick conversation with a participant in any of Nashi’s many rallies (for “Putin’s Plan,” against Kosovo’s independence) will invariably reveal that the students have been bused in under threat of a failing grade or harder community service. The morning after Medvedev’s victory, on Pushkin Square, I joined a group of about 60 young Nashi men and women with government-issue flags huddled, under freezing rain, in front of an outdoor stage. A government-approved rapper, swaying in his best approximation of Jay-Z, delivered an upbeat refrain: U menya vsyo okei, u menya vsyo okei–“I’m just fine, I’m just fine”–periodically throwing in a misplaced shout-out to “South Bronx.” The wet crowd looked utterly miserable. More than a few boys clutched beer bottles. A violet-eared militia officer was the only one bobbing his head to the beat: At least he was getting paid to be there.

The final leg of Sovereign Democracy is in what used to be the private sector. A de facto nationalization of Russia’s most flush industries–oil and gas–provides the cushion that keeps the bureaucratic deadweight afloat. Both functionaries and dissidents, struggling to put this socioeconomic model into first-world terms, like to say that the new Russia is being run like a corporation. To an extent, it is a corporation, and that corporation is Gazprom–currently headed by Dmitri Medvedev. The government is unhealthily symbiotic with the gas concern, which provides at least 8 percent of the country’s GDP, serves as an unsubtle diplomatic chip, and, dissidents allege, helps the principals funnel vast fortunes abroad. Per Medvedev, Gazprom should be worth $1 trillion by 2017, which will make it the world’s largest company. The rest of its directors’ board teems with government officials and Putin and Medvedev’s fellow St. Petersburg mayor’s office alums. It could, in a pinch, make a decent shadow cabinet. In the late 1990s, a jokey draft of a “Gazprom- State Unity Bill,” circulated in the Russian Parliament hallways, stated that, “in case of Prime Minister’s incapacitation, his duties shall be carried out by the Chairman of the Gazprom Board of Directors, and vice versa.” Less than a decade later, it’s no longer a joke.

Journalists Mikhail Zygar and Valery Panyushkin, in their new book Gazprom: The New Russian Weapon, make a clever case for the gas giant as a kind of parasite country piggybacking on Russia. It has its own banking system (Gazprombank, which doesn’t deal in rubles), airline (Gazpromavia), and armed forces. Media, too: Gazprom controls Izvestia, a national daily, and NTV, which it won in a government-assisted takeover that marked the first of Putin’s patented legal-on-paper power moves. On the day after the elections, the new NTV (whose “N” still stands for nezavisimoe, or “independent”) followed up a sunny report on Medvedev with the news that, “two hours ago, Gazprom cut gas deliveries to Ukraine by 25 percent,” achieving a spectacular conflict-of- interest hat trick: Not only was Gazprom the corporate parent of the network, but the new president-elect chaired the Gazprom board and curated the administration’s Ukraine policy. Most of modern Russian life unfolds in this maddening hall of mirrors, with the same few dozen names alternately popping up in their “public” and “private” capacities.

The final leg of Sovereign Democracy is in what used to be the private sector. A de facto nationalization of Russia’s most flush industries–oil and gas–provides the cushion that keeps the bureaucratic deadweight afloat. Both functionaries and dissidents, struggling to put this socioeconomic model into first-world terms, like to say that the new Russia is being run like a corporation. To an extent, it is a corporation, and that corporation is Gazprom–currently headed by Dmitri Medvedev. The government is unhealthily symbiotic with the gas concern, which provides at least 8 percent of the country’s GDP, serves as an unsubtle diplomatic chip, and, dissidents allege, helps the principals funnel vast fortunes abroad. Per Medvedev, Gazprom should be worth $1 trillion by 2017, which will make it the world’s largest company. The rest of its directors’ board teems with government officials and Putin and Medvedev’s fellow St. Petersburg mayor’s office alums. It could, in a pinch, make a decent shadow cabinet. In the late 1990s, a jokey draft of a “Gazprom- State Unity Bill,” circulated in the Russian Parliament hallways, stated that, “in case of Prime Minister’s incapacitation, his duties shall be carried out by the Chairman of the Gazprom Board of Directors, and vice versa.” Less than a decade later, it’s no longer a joke.

Journalists Mikhail Zygar and Valery Panyushkin, in their new book Gazprom: The New Russian Weapon, make a clever case for the gas giant as a kind of parasite country piggybacking on Russia. It has its own banking system (Gazprombank, which doesn’t deal in rubles), airline (Gazpromavia), and armed forces. Media, too: Gazprom controls Izvestia, a national daily, and NTV, which it won in a government-assisted takeover that marked the first of Putin’s patented legal-on-paper power moves. On the day after the elections, the new NTV (whose “N” still stands for nezavisimoe, or “independent”) followed up a sunny report on Medvedev with the news that, “two hours ago, Gazprom cut gas deliveries to Ukraine by 25 percent,” achieving a spectacular conflict-of- interest hat trick: Not only was Gazprom the corporate parent of the network, but the new president-elect chaired the Gazprom board and curated the administration’s Ukraine policy. Most of modern Russian life unfolds in this maddening hall of mirrors, with the same few dozen names alternately popping up in their “public” and “private” capacities.

The centralized purse informs the low-energy, neo-Soviet attitudes currently permeating every trade from publishing, where political appointees and oil heiresses rule the mastheads, to the restaurant business, wherein Kremlin favorites erect and maintain gaudy, money-losing food palaces. Coupled with economic hardships, this bureaucratic cronyism would undoubtedly fuel dissent, and perhaps even a popular revolt on par with Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution.” With oil prices where they are, wages rising across the board, and the new middle class getting its first taste of bank credit, however, all it breeds is utter indifference to the very concept of democracy.
Unlike Gorbachev’s perestroika, the key word of the Brezhnev era–zastoi, or stagnation–never gained currency in English, but it describes late-Putinist Russia fairly well. Economically booming, politically resurgent, today’s Russia is also culturally stagnant in the widest sense. Its only identifiable passion is to be taken seriously abroad. The depth of the Russian humiliation cannot be overstated. When a man named Vitaly Kaloyev, whose wife and child died in a Swiss plane crash, went to Switzerland and knifed the culpable air-traffic controller to death, he came back a national hero. A group of Nashi members met his flight with signs reading “You’re A Real Man,” and the North Ossetia Region honored Kaloev as its Man of the Year. He was soon offered a high government post.

The Western press likes to kid itself that Putin’s regime is crushing a potent revolt. “They always wanted us to give the opposition viewpoint,” chuckles a former reporter for The New York Times’ Moscow bureau. “Where’s the opposition? More opposition! We were like, ‘It’s really not about the opposition here.'” A tyrant suppressing the people’s will is a more familiar and dynamic narrative than the people’s will simply petering out. “The denizens of the Kremlin,” claims Anne Applebaum in Slate, “still seem to fear Western- inspired popular discontent.” Andrew Meier in The New York Times Magazine writes that “there remains one genuine opposition force, the Other Russia.”

Would that it did. To call the Other Russia, a coalition of anti-Kremlin forces, disorganized or rudderless is to hugely understate matters. It is a leftover stew of political views–combining literally everyone who isn’t a Putinist or a communist in one of history’s least organic alliances. Given any measure of power, it would fracture in seconds.

March’s transfer-of-power show was especially noteworthy for how little passion it stirred in those opposed to the regime. The only protest anyone talked about involved a few Moscow philosophy students staging a faux orgy at a natural history museum. I spent the final hours of the presidential election in the closest place Moscow had to an opposition HQ that night: a party at Mayak Café where every notable Other Russian in the city was present. Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister, chatted with Vladimir Ryzhkov, the former Duma speaker. (Both had wanted to run against Medvedev and were barred on sadistic technicalities.) Former TV star Viktor Shenderovich, now blacklisted from all but one of the networks for mocking Putin, cracked jokes about FSB agents infiltrating the party. The atmosphere was that of an iconic Khruschev- era Soviet kitchen: smoke-swathed intelligentsia giggling about how screwed they are. A woman moved through the crowd distributing plastic bags that said “I’m taking no part in this farce,” made famous hours ago by Garry Kasparov, who toted one to a photo op. For a gathering with at least two viable candidates in attendance, notably absent was anything resembling a plan, a platform, a blueprint for moving on.

“I had a shot,” Kasyanov told me. “I had a shot, and this is exactly why Putin gave the order to create the bureaucratic details that resulted in my removal.” And, yet, Shenderovich, standing a few feet away, placed Kasyanov’s chances in a hypothetical squeaky-clean contest at 10 percent. The same goes for Kasparov, a noble but ultimately irrelevant figure. Outside Moscow’s Garden Ring, the idea of a Jewish-Armenian presidential candidate is sadly laughable. Most agree that the last person capable of inspiring (and financing) a nationwide liberal movement was oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, jailed since 2003 for attempting just that.

Dropping out–taking “no part in this farce”–is, in the eyes of most Russian intellectuals, the only honorable option. In the late 1980s, exiled Soviet writer Sergei Dovlatov noted that dissidents lacked an original vocabulary–all good and noble words had already been used by communists. The current generation of liberals, then, is stuck with a vocabulary of justice, liberty, hope, etc. coopted by communists and dissidents. Idealism of any kind is perceived as embarrassing.

Instead, there’s a new language of cynicism. In the past few years, Russian has acquired an extraordinary number of energetic slang terms for various subspecies of fraud: raspil (embezzlement), otkat (kickback), otzhim (hostile takeover). Every street rally, every public opinion is assumed to be zakazano and proplacheno–“ordered” and “paid up.” The most fashionable pose is that of a conspiracy theorist: Belief in a shadowy world government, be it KGB, CIA, or Jews, is mainstream and commonplace. This thinking, of course, has the side benefit of excusing the thinker of any responsibility.

The blankly soft-spoken Medvedev is both the chief benefactor of nationwide apathy and its perfect embodiment. Although the new president’s lack of leadership experience is well-documented and total–he’s never held an elected office before being entrusted with the highest one–Medvedev isn’t a dreary Chekhovian pencil-pusher. He is a shrewd corporate lawyer and, at 42, a Russian of a new generation: He came of age studying not the “triumphant march of Marxism” but sophisticated financial instruments. The problem is that his and his peers’ command of the market vernacular seems to be mostly aimed at gaming the system. In the early ’90s, while working in the St. Petersburg mayor’s office–the cauldron from which Putin and his team emerged–Medvedev was reportedly the first to devise a quasi-legal way for the municipal government to buy into a profitable venture (in that case, a chain of shady gambling parlors): not through investment but through rent forgiveness. It was a somewhat elegant and utterly cynical move, and it set Dmitri on the upward trajectory that brought him to Moscow before the decade’s end. One can easily see the radioactive traces of that St. Petersburg epiphany in Gazprom’s dealings with its international customers, in which the price of gas seems to rise and fall in direct dependence on the client country’s tolerance of the Kremlin. Medvedev’s policy is likely to grow directly out of Putin’s the way Putin’s grew out of Yeltsin’s: a progressively more streamlined, centralized, and internationally palatable variation on kleptocracy.

What makes the president-elect an almost exotic figure in Putin’s inner circle is his lack of what Russians call “shoulder boards under the jacket.” In other words, he isn’t KGB. Medvedev’s mien is as far as it gets from the brusque demeanor of his thwarted rival, First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov (another St. Petersburg native and Putin’s KGB buddy). Putin, who delights in keeping everyone guessing, originally appeared to be grooming Ivanov for the presidency, then Medvedev, then Ivanov again. Whenever royal favor seemed to flag, Ivanov would reportedly go berserk. Medvedev, by contrast, took every slight with a smile, and prevailed. He was clearly appalled but didn’t make a peep when Putin stuck Boris Kovalchuk, a 29-year-old son of a friend, into his National Priority Projects department. He didn’t wince when his campaign ads turned out to be two-shots of him and Putin under the slogan “We Will Win Together.” He doesn’t resort to gutter language in private and radiates vague good humor in public. (“I frankly wonder how he fell in with those guys,” confesses Marat Guelman, a political consultant who worked on Putin’s 2000 campaign and informally advised Medvedev on Ukraine policy.) He sets gaydars pinging, a rarity in a culture that hilariously believes its most flamboyant pop singers to be straight. The suspicion is hardly allayed by the presence of Medvedev’s Ab Fab-esque wife Svetlana (whom he claims to have dated since the age of 14) and nicely dovetails with the popular theory that the job went to the guy with the most to hide.

Putin himself, of course, is not going anywhere–Medvedev’s central campaign promise was to make him prime minister. Should the new president attempt to flex his executive muscle, the seeds of the clash between the kingmaker and the king are right there in the open. “The president is the guarantor of the Constitution,” proclaimed Putin at his final press conference, “but the highest executive power in the country is the Russian government, led by the prime minister.” Compare it to a pre-election interview with Medvedev in the Itogi weekly: “Our country was, and will stay, a presidential republic … if Russia turns into a parliamentary republic, it will vanish. This is a deep personal conviction of mine.” And later: “I don’t think you’re paying enough attention. There’s no two, three or five centers [of power]. Russia is governed by the president.” By the meek Medvedev standards, this is almost an outburst–especially considering that the campaign placed the interview in Itogi as a paid advertisement; one imagines there was ample opportunity to finesse the tone post factum.

These hints of–could it be?–a spine hearten some observers immeasurably, because Medvedev is perceived to be hiding a liberal soul. According to Guelman, the president-elect belongs to a Kremlin faction “afraid that the world will start viewing Russia like China, a thing unto itself.” His kind, or so it is believed, invest their money in U.S. banks and businesses, send their children to top European colleges, and favor Russia joining the WTO. They see no gain in the isolationist utopia of the kind trumpeted by some of Putin’s other confidantes, with the country as a “black box with an oil pipe sticking out.” “Medvedev will either make liberalization of Russia his main task, or remain a purely decorative figure,” says Guelman. “He can’t possibly have any other function. This is the only thing he’s good for.”

It follows that the one way Medvedev can return a measure of vigor to Russian public life is by doing something truly radical: his job. If there were to be a visible standoff between Medvedev and Putin on even a trifling rights issue, Medvedev is guaranteed to suddenly find himself passionately championed by the same crowd that sniffed at voting for him. This is, after all, what happened to Boris Yeltsin, hardly a dissident. For now, Kremlinologists are well-advised to keep an eye on Medvedev’s law-school friends: Anton Ivanov, Nikolai Vinichenko, Aleksandr Konovalov. If these people start popping up in major cabinet posts, displacing Putin’s men, Medvedev’s got more juice than expected.

So far, Medvedev’s been a depressingly good boy, but to the victor goes the set dressing. The heady imperial imagery he now wields has palpable power of its own. As Muscovites like to repeat, Medvedev “will wake up every day and see the President’s face in the mirror.” Now that he’s got the gig, he may also hear the echoes of that Red Square chant–“Pu-tin! Pu-tin! Pu-tin!”–pulsing in his head, and dream of a similar reception for himself. The ramifications of that choice go well beyond politics. Just like Putin’s every facial tic was once examined for hints to the extent of his severity, Medvedev’s most workaday initiatives (like his recent order to curtail surprise inspections on small businesses) are being parsed for signs of thaw, coded signals as to what’s allowed. Kremlinology, an imprecise science Putin’s black-box presidency has resurrected, is not just for Western think tanks anymore: The Russian eyes are trained on Medvedev, too. It’s a testament to his predecessor’s continuing grip, however, that the very people who unquestioningly ushered this slight stranger into power are now looking to find a glimmer of liberal hope in his smallest gestures.

Russians up to Their Old Tricks in Sunny Miami

The Russian contingent was up to its old tricks again last week at the WTA Tier I tour event in Miami Florida.

Before turning to them, though, we should note a larger outrage: American Serena Williams won the tournament in dominating fashion, crushing several higher-ranked players on the way to the title (which she won for the fifth time, a record). Yet, on Monday her ranking actually dropped from #8 to #9. Obviously, the ranking system is entirely psychotic and requires massive reform (after all, it once said — albeit briefly — that the pathetic Maria Shamapova was the best player on the planet). The woeful Russian Elena Dementieva vaulted from #11 to #8, knocking Serena down a peg, advancing to the quarterfinals in a show of pure dumb luck.

Speaking of which, as for the Russians:

Fully half the quarter-finals spots were occupied by Russians, giving apparent fuel to the Russophile fire. But no intelligent fan was duped. It was all just a freak of nature, taking the wind out of the tournament’s sails by sending boring, lame Russian players deep into the draw.

Three Russians who were not seeded to reach the quarters (#10 Dementieva, #13 Safina and #19 Zvonareva) got there anyway. How did they do it? Dumb luck. All three of the higher-seeded players they were scheduled to meet in the earlier rounds conveniently lost before they ever needed to face them. Slavic vixen and #2 seed Ivanovic was blown off the court in easy straight sets by aging, has-been American Lindsey Davenport while Russia’s second-highest seed (#5 Anna Chakvetadze — who fell to #7 in the world from #5 as a result) was equally humiliated by an unseeded opponent in her second match, taking only one game in the second set. Finally, #7 Hantuchova lost a tough three-setter against a Japanese journeywoman. Russia’s most famous player, it should be noted, namely Maria Sharapova, didn’t even show up, licking her wounds after a humiliating drubbing by countrywoman Kuznetsova in the prior tournament.

This had the effect of leaving Russia with a guaranteed spot in the semifinals as Zvonareva and Safina drew each other in the quarters. Meanwhile, in an act that can only be considered insane, tournament organizers not only placed world #1 Justine Henin the same quarter of the draw with the most scintillating player, #8 Serena Williams, but it also placed both of them in the same half with Serena’s sister Venus, virtually guaranteeing that all the real drama of the tournament would be gone before the finals. When Serena’s rank drops even though she wins a Tier I event, and when fans are deprives of marquee matches in the semis and finals, it’s time to wonder whether the women’s game is out to destroy itself.

And in the event, the Russians spoiled things even earlier. Kuznetsova, whose middle name should be “chokeyawn,” beat the lower-ranked Venus, sending her on to face Serena in the semis after Serena brutally destroyed Henin. The lower-ranked Serena then easily whipped the higher-ranked Kuznetsova in the semis, cruising to an easy 6-3 win the the third set. Kuznetsova’s ranking thus dropped to #4 from #3 (though this was not nearly as bizarre a result as with Serena, since Kuznetsova was displaced by former #4 Jelena Jankovic, who made the finals).

Thus, of the four Russian women who made the quarterfinals, two (Kuznetsova and Safina) lost to lower-ranked opponents, one (Dementieva) gave up in the middle of the second set and one (Zvonareva) was blown off the court by a higher-ranked opponent in an unwatchable match. With 50% of the spots in both the quarters and semis, Russia didn’t manage to get even one player into the finals, much less win the tournament. In other words, same old Russian story. By contrast, though not seeded to even make the semifinals and with 50% fewer players reaching the quarters than Russia, America not only put a player in the finals but won the title, it’s lower-ranked entrant totally dominating her higher-ranked Serbian opponent.

As if all this weren’t enough lameness, as we reported last week Mikhail Youzhny, the men’s 11th seed, helped Russia to some additional humiliation by beating himself over the head repeatedly with his racket during his third-round match, drawing blood and turning himself into a YouTube phenonmenon. Add this to top-ranked Russian Nikolay Davydenko’s match-fixing investigation, and you have . . . Russia in a nutshell.