The Post's coverage of Russia in November was more like a miss than a hit. Only Philip Pan put up some real effort, whereas the Post's editors and op-ed contributors went MIA (as far as Russia was concerned), focusing instead on President Obama's health-care reform and Afghanistan policy. Besides, not too much negative has occurred in Russia in November, and absent any bad news, the Post sees little reason to write about Russia at all.
Pan began on November 6 with reporting on the arrests of two suspects in the murder of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova. When reading the article, one can almost sense Pan's disappointment with the fact that the alleged suspects reportedly belong to a neo-Nazi group. That's understandable: Pan's bosses would much prefer suspects with direct links to the Russian security services.
Mary Beth Sheridan and Walter Pincus reported, on November 7, on a trip to Moscow of President Obama's national security adviser Jim Jones. The trip was said to have provided a breakthrough in the START treaty negotiations, allowing both sides to hope that the new agreement will be signed until before the year's end. (On November 10, though, the ever vigilant Robert Kagan and Dan Blumenthal reminded us that "Moscow needs [arms-control agreements] more than Washington does.")
The Post's editorial board was visibly shaken by Medvedev's address, calling it, in a November 14 editorial, "a spectacle of Russia's president speaking the truth about his country." The editorial went on to add: "We couldn't have said it better." That's a telling admission. The Post's editors seems to believe that they have a monopoly on "speaking the truth" about Russia and now, they're troubled with the presence of a competitor.
The editorial didn't neglect to mention that "[Prime Minister] Putin…looked unhappy in his front-row seat as Mr. Medvedev spoke", with the same point having been made by Pan ("Prime Minister Vladimir Putin…sat without smiling in the audience"). A more perfect sign of the "growing rift" within the Putin-Medvedev tandem, anyone?
(I saw a great number of addresses of U.S. presidents to Congress, but don't remember many smiling, happy looking, faces in the audience. U.S. legislators express their emotions differently. For example, by verbally insulting the president.)
Pan returned to familiar turf by reporting on the death of Sergei Magnitsky, a lawyer representing the Hermitage Capital Management, on November 18, and apparent terrorist attack on the Nevsky Express train, on November 29. Pan concluded his coverage with describing Russia's position, on the eve of the climate-change summit in Copenhagen, on credits for greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Post's editorial board reacted to Magnitsky's death with another editorial, on November 24. It's not clear why it took the Post six days to publish what looked like an abbreviated version of Pan's article. Perhaps, they planned to wait a bit and then lambaste the Kremlin for inattention to the Magnitsky case (Pan, on November 18: "Neither Prime Minister Vladimir Putin nor President Dmitry Medvedev have commented on the case.")? Unfortunately for the Post, President Medvedev has ordered a full investigation into the circumstances of Magnitsky's death. Do I need to say that the editorial failed to mention this fact?
The only November op-ed piece worth speaking of was an article, "Russia's search for an identity", by Moscow Carnegie's Masha Lipman. Her topic was President Medvedev's videoblog entry made on the day of commemoration of political prisoners, in which Medvedev called Stalin's repressions "one of the greatest tragedies in Russian history." (I wonder if this line by Medvedev will be quoted nearly as often as Putin's allegedly calling the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century").
Having made the obligatory cheap shots at Medvedev ("Medvedev's often well-intended rhetoric has not been matched with policy"), Lipman nevertheless called his videoblog address a "speech…in the right direction."
Lipman ought to be very careful when praising, however timidly, the Russian president. She must be aware of what happened to opposition figure Marina Litvinovich. Litvinovich committed a deadly sin of voicing support for Medvedev's modernization initiatives. After which the Russian Uber-Democrat, Garry Kasparov, immediately fired her from the position of Executive Director of his United Civil Front.
Besides, as a Post contributor, Lipman should always remember this in-house rule: "About Russia, either bad or nothing."