I have to admit that even after closely watching the Post's coverage of Russia for almost two years, its logic still evades me. For example, one would assume that in early June, it should have focused on Russian President Medvedev's first state visit to the United States. Right? Wrong. Neither Medvedev's stop in the Silicon Valley nor his subsequent talks with President Obama attracted any attention of the Post's editorial board.
Instead, two Russia-related editorials, on June 9 and June 19, were devoted to defending Russian citizens against "repressive domestic policies." Or, to be more precise, one particular citizen of Russia and the Post's recent contributor (which apparently explains the selection), Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The Post covered Khodorkovsky's second trial many times already and had nothing new to say. But they obviously wanted to mention a testimony favorable to Khodorkovsky given in the court by former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov. (The Post's editors need to work on their math skills: the editorial says, on June 9, that Kasyanov testified "last week", whereas in fact, he did so on May 24. Not a big deal, but this leads me to my favorite perennial question: does anyone at the Post read their articles before publishing them?). Later, two high-ranked officials, the president of Sberbank German Gref and the Industry Minister Victor Khristenko, showed up in court and gave testimonies which Khodorkovsky's defense described as highly helpful to their client. Did the Post bother to even acknowledge Gref's and Khristenko's court appearance? Of course not.
All these petty games with "human rights violations" were played by the Post with a single purpose: to demand that the Obama administration make any further cooperation with Moscow contingent upon Russia's following "Western principles of freedom and human rights" — naturally defined by the Post's terms.
Then David Kramer chimed in, on June 22, to argue that no rapprochement between the U.S. and Russia is possible until Russia moves "toward a more positive, pro-Western stance." And now, according to Kramer, it's not "pro-Western"; worse, it's "anti-West." Kramer draws his conclusion from a "close reading" of the Russian foreign policy "doctrine" leaked to the press a few weeks ago. Kramer read the document so closely that every single "Russia's foreign policy objective" (and the "doctrine" includes a long list of them) turned in his eyes into a proof of Russia's "anti-West" stance. Such as, for example, President Medvedev's last year's proposals for a comprehensive European Security Treaty. Or Russia's emphasis on cooperation with Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. (Kramer seems to think that these countries don't belong to "the West" anymore). Moreover, if one takes Kramer's writings seriously, Russia's desire to get rid of the Jackson-Vanik amendment and see the Nuclear Cooperation ("123") Agreement ratified in Congress is also a sign of its "anti-West" stance.
As I said, the Post has almost completely ignored President Medvedev's presence in the United States. Only Glenn Kessler and Michael Shear reported on the presidential lunch at Ray's Hell Burger, and then Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin told us, in the context of the Obama-Medvedev summit, that opinions vary in the U.S. on the state of U.S.-Russia relations. Thank you, Mr. Rogin, this was informative.
But on Saturday, June 26, when Medvedev's visit was already over, an editorial appeared criticizing the installation of Josef Stalin's bronze bust at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA. Was this an attempt to implicitly associate Medvedev with the bloody dictator or something else, I don't know. As I told you, the logic of the Post's coverage of Russia evades me.
Ah yes, Robert Kagan did mention the visit, on June 29, calling it in passing "happy talk and hamburgers." In a uncharacteristic, if somewhat suspicious, bout of objectivity, Kagan praised President Obama's foreign policy accomplishments for the month of June. One of those, according to Kagan, was the Obama administration's firm position vis-a-vis Russia on Georgia.
And then — ta da! — the "Russian spy ring" story broke. Jerry Markon initiated a thread with a June 29 piece titled "FBI arrests 10 accused of working as Russian spies." I love this "working as Russian spies." I mean, some people in America work as accountants, some as office managers, and yet some as Russian spies. True, Markon admits that the accused "were not charged with espionage", but rather with acting "as unauthorized foreign agents." But, hey, who would be reading an article titled "FBI arrests 10 accused of working as unauthorized foreign agents"?
Philip Pan's article described negative reaction caused by the arrests in Russia, and Markon and William Branigin pointed to a cautious response by the White House. Then Markon and Philip Rucker took a "closer inspection" into the lives of the suspects, and Jason Horowitz introduced one of the potential targets of the "ring", a New York financier, Alan Patricof. Greg Miller and Pan interviewed a number of current and former U.S. intelligence officials, some of which have predicted that Russia would "retaliate in time-honored Cold War fashion."
Then Monica Hesse treated us with a journey into the world of Anna Chapman – the new Internet sensation, "the hot one", another Bond Girl, and a woman "with a head for business…and a bod for sin." The Post has even established an on-line poll where you could rate the "hotness" of a number of real and fictional spies. At 4:40 pm on July 4, 59% respondent considered Chapman "the hottest spy ever", with Natasha Fatale from "Rocky and Bullwinkle" coming in distant second (15%), and Sean Connery as James Bond, Matt Damon as Jason Bourne, and Mata Hari trailing badly. (For the record: I voted for Matt Damon).
Finally, Paul Schwartzman and Markon struck a somber note by guessing about the future of the alleged spies' children: seven American kids born to four couples.
Anne Applebaum has (was?) chosen to bat for the Post's op-ed columnists on July 1. The same day, an editorial appeared that closely followed Applebaum's line of thinking and even lifted a few lines from her article (vacation time? budget cuts?). Taking the officially provided information about "Russian spies" at face value, Applebaum asked an undeniably valid question:
"Why on earth would the Russian government spend years of its time and millions of its dollars on the education, upkeep and housing of a spy who might someday be able to collect some rumors from a Democratic fundraiser and friend of the Clintons?"
Applebaum's explanation was that running the alleged spy ring proverbial "Moscow Center" still has a mentality of "the old KGB." It mistrusts all sources of open information, including the Internet, and prefers the data collected in a "clandestine" way.
The "pre-spy" (or should I call it "pre-unauthorized foreign agents"?) on-the-ground coverage of Russia hasn't been boring, either. On June 12, Glenn Kessler and Keith Richburg reported that in the wake of new U.N. sanctions against Iran, Russia has frozen the sale of S-300 air defense missiles to Tehran. On June 19, Craig Whitlock described outrage in U.S. Congress over the Pentagon's plans to equip the Afghanistan's air force with Russian made Mi-17 helicopters. (The lawmakers are unhappy with the fact that U.S. taxpayer money will be used to buy Russian military products and insist that American helicopters are to be bought instead. Never mind that, according to the article, Afghani pilots can't fly U.S.-built choppers).
Philip Pan is rapidly becoming a master-reporter writing about "disasters" in the post-Soviet space. So when ethnic violence erupted in Kyrgyzstan, on June 9, Pan was on familiar ground responding with two articles, on June 13 and June 14, from Moscow. On June 15, Pan reported from Bishkek, followed by reports from Jalal-Abad (on June 16), Vlksm (on June 17) , Osh (on June 18), and then Bishkek (on June 19) and Moscow (on June 21) again.
To David Ignatius, the tragic events in Kyrgyzstan was a crisis not to be wasted; rather, he saw "a new opportunity for Moscow and Washington to work as partners." Ignatius argued that the way both countries communicated and cooperated during the recent crisis can serve as a blueprint of their future genuine partnership in Central Asia where "they share the same enemies — the militant Islamic groups and criminal gangs that threaten stability in the region." Moreover, Ignatius wants to believe that this mode of collaboration can eventually evolve in a system of "collective security."
It's a shame that Ignatius doesn't write about Russia more often.