The Washington Post's coverage of Russia finally showed some long-awaited signs of recovery in October. All credits go to Kathy Lally whose reports from Moscow reminded me of the original meaning of the word "reporting."
For starters, Ms. Lally isn't lazy, as her impressive nine-articles-per-month production indicates. Equally impressive is her seemingly painless handling of Russian names, Moscow's convoluted geography and official acronyms. I also find it heartening that while Lally's earlier reports were populated exclusively with members of the so-called democratic opposition, her October pieces are crowded with ordinary Russians: pensioners, city officials, civil activists, and ethnic minorities.
Besides, in contrast to her predecessor, Philip Pan, who was predominantly focused on Russian politics, Lally's interests are more diverse. For instance, her October 2 article described the controversy surrounding building a new mosque in Moscow. (For those curious: yes, Lally did mention both the KGB and the FSB in her rather short piece.) Lally's October 5 report touches upon the fate of the statue of Peter the Great (a masterpiece by the even greater Zurab Tsereteli), an issue brought to the forefront of public attention in the wake of the firing of Moscow's Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. (Lally ends her piece with lines from Alexander Pushkin's "The Bronze Horseman." This made my day, truly.) An October 7 article described a public gathering in commemoration of the fourth anniversary of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. (Lally finds it important that Garry Kasparov attended the gathering. Do you?)
In another deviation from her more reserved predecessor, Lally isn't shy of using bold and colorful language. Check it out:
"Protesters here [in Moscow] mostly endure arrests, beatings and no change."
Or enjoy this:
"After a century in the economic cold, Russia is close to coming inside…" (On Russia joining the WTO.)
And this isn't bad, either:
"Anna Chapman, the come-hither Russian spy, threw off her cloak, stowed the dagger and stepped out of the shadow…wearing an eye-catching, bright red coat…" (On the surprise appearance at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan of…well, you know who.)
On a couple of occasions, Lally wore Philip Pan's hat writing about events in the "near abroad" (the parliamentary elections in Kyrgyzstan) or about Russia's domestic "disasters" (the attack on the parliament building in Grozny, Chechnya).
On October 26, Lally was helped by Will Englund who used the release of the 15th Annual Transparency International Report as an occasion to talk about corruption in Russia. On October 30, Joshua Partlow reported on a successful joint U.S.-Russia anti-narcotics operation in Afghanistan. The same day, Lally added a piece of her own looking at the joint raid through the complex prism of U.S.-Russia relations — and through the prism of growing heroin addiction in Russia.
As far as Russia was concerned, the Post's editorial board went MIA. For almost two years that I've been following the newspaper's coverage of Russia, I hardly can remember a month without a single Russia editorial. October was such a month. Op-ed columnists haven't helped much, either. All usual suspects seem to have completely lost any interest in Russia. Charles Krauthammer, for example, prefers blasting domestic policies of President Obama. And my favorite Anne Applebaum writes about just everything but Russia. (I suspect that the reason here is Applebaum's husband, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski. I imagine that every time Applebaum tries to type "Russia" on her laptop, her husband looks at her and says gently: "Honey…")
And even those op-ed authors who did show up mentioned Russia only in passing. Robert Kagan praised the Obama administration for its seemingly toughening stance against "authoritarian states" such as Russian and China; he also complimented Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for denouncing "the Russian 'occupation' of Georgia." Fred Hiatt expressed frustration with the fact that "China, Russia, Iran and Cuba have been more successful exporting and extolling their systems than democracies have been in promoting theirs."
The only exception was a column provided by AEI's Leon Aron in which he recycled what he called "the million-dollar mystery in Russian politics: Will Putin run in 2012?" Having picked up a few quotes from Putin's recent interviews, Aron comes to a perceptive conclusion that a wide and deep "chasm [exists] between Putin's and Medvedev's visions of Russia's future." Aron then proceeds to give President Medvedev a couple of tips on Leon Aron's vision of Russia's future.
This article is a disappointment. Aron is a real expert on Russia and he is a sophisticated writer. He could have done better than treating us to a "me too" piece of the second-class Kremlinology.