One could reasonably expect that after an avalanche of Russia related publications in June and, especially, July, a sort of fatigue was about to set in in the Post's coverage of Russia in August. And it certainly did. Yet Russia wasn't completely forgotten, as a decent number of both articles (8) and op-eds/eds (8) appeared.
In the absence of Philip Pan (on vacation after extensive summer travel?), the Post had no one else to cover the Russian Disaster of the Year — forest fires in the Western part of the country. The only piece the Post could muster on the subject was the one by Ariana Cha and Janine Zacharia, who reported that Russia was banning its grain exports as a result of the loss of one-fifth of its crop.
The vacuum was however filled with op-ed contributions. Somewhat expectedly for the Post's authors, instead of blaming Mother Nature (which every sane person did in the cases of flooding in Pakistan and the mudslide in China ), they pointed fingers at the usual suspect: "the centralized, one-party system" of which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (but of course, who else?) "is the architect." At least that was the explanation provided by a William Dobson. Interestingly, Dobson began his piece by featuring a profile of an environmental activist, Yevgenia Chirikova, the leader of the movement opposing the destruction of Khimki Forest. But Dobson soon lost interest in the real leaders of the Russian civil society and went on a routine anti-Putin rant whose sole purpose was conceivably a promotion of "a book on the challenges to democracy" he's reportedly writing.
Dobson's opinion was seconded by the famed "limousine liberal" Lilia Shevtsova. This time around, Ms. Shevtsova abandoned her usual co-riders and shared a seat with David Kramer. (Congratulations to Mr. Kramer on his appointment as the new executive director of Freedom House! The House of the world's freedoms will be in good hands.) The result of this journey was a bona fide horror storyof what-went-wrong-in-Russia-under-Putin. It's amazing how much stuff Shevtsova & Kramer managed to pack into their medium-size piece: subways, morgues and rivers full of fainted people, piling corpses and drawn bodies, respectively; Russian-Georgian war, Chernobyl accident, Hurricane Katrina, Gulf Coast oil spill, George W. Bush, oligarchs, VTsIOM, Levada Center, Silicon Valley, Kursk submarine, and, finally, CNN's Larry King. And all that to perceptively conclude that:
"Prime Minister Vladimir Putin bears direct responsibility for the dysfunctional system that set the stage for disaster."
Thanks for the ride, guys, that was intense!
At this point, the Post's editors flashed a rare sign of sanity: they have correctly identified the fires in Russia (and floods in Pakistan) as natural disasters and called on Republicans in Congress to get serious about climate change. Admittedly, that was only a flash: in two weeks, the editors returned to their usual state of mind and condemned Putin for a 3-day imprisonment of human rights activist Lev Ponomarev. In my humble opinion, this is a stretch: even a "dictator", as Putin is habitually called by the Post's editors, can't be held responsible for every stupidity of Moscow law enforcement authorities. It's like blaming President Obama for the jailing of a Florida man who sent a Facebook "friend" request to his estranged wife?
Masha Lipman made, on August 9, her usual call in support of Russia's anti-government movements. If you think that Ms. Lipman expressed her admiration with Yevgenia Chirikova and other defenders of Khimki Forest (or, for a change, with hundreds of brave volunteers helping firefighters extinguish raging forest fires), think again. The heroes of Lipman's story are a tiny group of political clowns attempting to stage a rally at Triumphal'naya Ploshchad in Moscow on the last day of each month with 31 days. The only notable thing about these people appears to be the way they call themselves: Strategy 31. Strategy! A strategy of what? The activities of Strategy 31 clearly show that the Russian "liberal opposition" has no strategy; only cheap tactics to attract attention to themselves. More, the insistence on rallying in places where no one would listen to them shows that the "strategists" have nothing to say to ordinary Russians. That's why they prefer to communicate, eight times per year, with the equally empty-headed OMONovtsy.
A number of publications covered the ongoing ratification of the New START Treaty. Mary Beth Sheridan and Walter Pincus reported, on August 4, that the Senate vote on the treaty was postponed until after the summer recess, if not the November mid-term elections. On August 10, Pincus pointed out that the criticism of the leading Senate opponent of the New START, Sen. Jon Kyl(R-Ariz.), targeted the elements of the treaty Kyl was ready to accept (or ignore) when discussing the Moscow Treaty seven years ago. On August 17, Sheridan reminded that with the expiration of START in November 2009, "[f]or the first time in 15 years, U.S. officials have lost their ability to inspect Russian long-rage nuclear bases." (On a somewhat related note, Sheridan described the growing role of women in the field of U.S. national security, including arms control negotiations with Russia).
On the op-ed side, Jack Goldsmith and Jeremy Rabkin discussed, on August 4, an arcane technical issue in the Treaty text that, in their opinion, "could [potentially] erode Senate's foreign policy role." And on August 20, Stephen Rademaker made a good point by criticizing Senate Democrats for their attempts to rush the Treaty through ratification hearings without paying enough attention to their Republican opponents. In Rademaker's opinion, slowing down the process would eventually result in a solid bipartisan support of the Treaty.
In other Russia related news, John Pomfret reported, on August 20 and 21, on the decision by a Thailand appeals court to extradite to the United State a reputed Russian arms dealer, Viktor Bout. An August 22 article described the launch of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran.
The second anniversary of the Russian-Georgian war went almost unnoticed. The only person who showed up to speak in support of a "friendly Georgian democracy" was Sen. John McCain. A great fan of Georgian president Mikhail Saakashvili, McCain isn't renowned for his love for Russia, to put it mildly, so his displeasure with all things Russian is quite understandable. (However, I'd argue that when McCain suggests that President Medvedev uses Georgia as a "model for political and economic modernization", he goes a bit too far). Yet even McCain could memorize that Tbilisi's de facto loss of control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia didn't occur in August 2008; it goes back to 1992-1993. (Admittedly, not an easy thing for the aging statesman who famously struggled to learn the difference between Sunni and Shia and still finds Czechoslovakia on a world map).
Towards the end, McCain's piece becomes even more interesting. He calls on President Obama to deny Russia's accession to the World Trade Organization if "Russia does not make progress" on Georgia. He proceeds with demands to supply Georgia with "armored vehicles…antitank capabilities, air defenses, early-warning radar and other defensive systems." I thus strongly suspect that McCain wasn't the true author of the piece. The real one was Randy Scheunemann, McCain's foreign policy adviser and a paid lobbyist for the Georgian government, who seems to have just received a fresh infusion of cash from his masters in Tbilisi.