Regular readers of this Pravda on the Potomac sequel know that I usually avoid criticizing the Washington Post for not writing about something happening in Russia. After all, there could be multiple reasons, in addition to purely ideological, preventing the Post from covering this or that event. And yet, the omissions in the Post's coverage of Russia in September 2010 left me puzzled.
Why did the Post not report on Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov's US visit and his talks with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates aimed at boosting U.S.-Russia defense cooperation? Why did the Post not report on Russia's ban — by President Medvedev's decree — of selling S-300 missile systems to Iran, something always so dear to the Post editors' hearts? (At least I can see why they didn't mention yet another attempt of Russian "liberals" to unite: the Post doesn't seem to believe, just like me, that this is serious.)
True, there have been no major disasters in Russia in September, which always makes the Post's editors partly impotent. And disasters lacking, the only thing that is covered regularly is the progress in the Senate ratification of the New Start treaty. On September 10, the Post published an op-ed signed by four foreign policy dignitaries — George Shultz, Madeleine Albright, Gary Hart, and Chuck Hagel — calling on the U.S. Senate to promptly ratify the treaty because "[i]t increases U.S. national security." On September 15, Walter Pincus predicted that the Senate Foreign Relation Committee was to approve the resolution of ratification, and the next day, Mary Beth Sheridan reported that on a vote of 14 to 4, the resolution was indeed approved. The full Senate vote on the Treaty is said to take place "during a lame-duck session in November."
The paucity of the on-the-ground Russia coverage might be explained by the absence of Philip Pan. Pan hasn't been heard since June 21, and given that he started working in Moscow in 2008, it's likely that he's rotating somewhere. Let's wish him well in his new assignment: Pan is a great young reporter and has a bright future before him.
Pan was apparently replaced by a Kathy Lally, whose debut as a Post's Moscow correspondent took place on September 28 with a report that President Dmitry Medvedev fired Moscow's Mayor Yury Luzhkov. Ms. Lally has already shown an impressive knowledge of contemporary Russian politics: her article includes the line "…Putin became Medvedev's prime minister and continued running the country" along with comments from "member[s] of the democratic opposition" Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov.
Lally is in good hands and has a lot of people to look up to. For example, she could use a September 4 editorial to learn how to use sarcasm. The editorial is mockingly suggesting that the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was disappointed that the riot police didn 't beat protesters with clubs as, according to the Post, Putin ordered them to in his well-publicized Kommersant interview. Well, no one expects the Post's editors to read the interview in Russian — to enjoy Putin's colorful, multilayer, and nuanced language — to see what Putin really said. Surprising however is the editors' belief that the riot police in Moscow take their marching orders directly from the country's prime minister — and not in person or over the phone, but by reading a newspaper. A mental image of omonovtsy standing in rows and reading Kommersant before being bused to the Triumphal'naya Square made my day.
Or, Lally could learn from the perseverance of David Kramer, who uses his monthly Post's columns to attack recent improvements in the tone of U.S.-Russia relations. In September, Kramer was upset by the fact that the Obama administration refuses to "link" the bilateral relationship with what he calls "a deteriorating internal situation in Russia." (Kramer seems to like seeing things in their dynamics: every time he speaks, for example, of the "values gap" — and he speaks about it a lot – this gap is either "growing" or "widening.") Which, as the title of his piece implies, makes the U.S. "complicit in Russia's crimes." (By "Russia's crimes" — in plural — Kramer means a three-day imprisonment of a human right activist Lev Ponomarev.)
To punish Russia, Kramer puts forward an elaborate plan including, among other punishments, the dismantling of the McFaul–Surkov Civil Society Working Group; suspending U.S. support for Russian membership in the World Trade Organization; and "denying visas to Russian officials who authorize or engage in human rights abuses."
Fyodor Mikhaylovich Dostoyevsky would have been proud of Kramer.