Archive for August, 2010

Bono vs. Putin

Friday, August 27th, 2010

This week, there was a miracle in Moscow: Bono came to Russia and rescued a forest. The forest was in Khimki, just outside Moscow’s northwestern edge, and, after years on the chopping block, it was in the process of being cleared to make room for a badly needed highway to St. Petersburg. Russian activists had been protesting the planned destruction of the ancient trees, a destruction that seemed spiteful and senseless, and one that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his cronies appeared to have decided on without consulting the people who lived there or considering any alternatives that would save the federally protected reserve. For years, the protesters were ignored, arrested, and, once, beaten half to death. Nothing worked and, this summer, the trees started to fall.

Until Wednesday night, that is. Bono’s band took the stage at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium and, in front of 60,000 people, he took out his black acoustic guitar and started to strum the opening chords of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” And then he said, “Yuri?”

Out came Yuri Shevchuk, the frontman of the perestroika rock group DDT, with his scruffy beard and his glasses, and he started to sing along to the chorus. Like Bono, Shevchuk is no regular rocker. In May, he shocked Putin by engaging the omnipotent prime minister in a heated spat on the lack of social equality and freedom in Russia at what was supposed to have been a civilized lunch for the artists of St. Petersburg. (“Your words have weight, so use them,” Shevchuk admonished Putin. “My weight is 76 kilograms,” Putin snorted.)

The Sunday before Bono’s concert, Shevchuk had thrown his political heft behind the campaign to save the Khimki forest with a benefit concert performed in Moscow’s city center. The concert only drew 3,000 people and the Moscow authorities wouldn’t let him hook up his sound equipment, so he played a mute set — but it brought the protest to the heart of the capital. That didn’t sit well with big shots in the Kremlin, nor were they overjoyed when Bono, who spent Tuesday strolling the sun-drenched boardwalks of Sochi with President Dmitry Medvedev, brought Shevchuk up on stage before thousands and gave him a hug the very next night. Bono had gotten an open letter from Shevchuk before the concert about Khimki, and he spent the hours before his Moscow show giving pre-concert interviews to Russian papers in which he said he wished he’d known about the Khimki forest so he could’ve brought it up with Medvedev.

What could’ve ended with fluffy rocker politicking didn’t. Instead, on Thursday, the day after the concert, in a stunning reversal that seemed to come out of nowhere, United Russia — the country’s ruling political party, which had heartily supported the chopping — issued a public appeal to Medvedev to stop the tree cutting and to “thoroughly examine the situation.” Less than six hours later, Medvedev obliged. “Considering the amount of appeals, I have made a decision,” he said in a statement on his video blog. “I order the government to stop the implementation of regulations on the construction of the relevant highway and to conduct additional civic and expert discussions.”

The forest, in other words, was saved! Hoorah!

Right?

This being Russia, however, this was not the whole story, nor is it the end of the story. The president’s injunction was, on the one hand, an important victory. It shows once again that the Kremlin is no longer interested in using brute force to push its pet projects and that it still wants to maintain at least a basic give-and-take with its subjects. “We’re a political party. We can’t stay on the sidelines when an issue resonates so powerfully with the people,” says Aleksei Chadaev, the head of United Russia’s political department, adding that the party now has an array of “ecological initiatives” in the works. Given enough popular outcry — especially if the rest of the world, or Bono, starts paying attention — the Kremlin will respond in its own, strangely choreographed way. This is not, in other words, Iran.

On the other hand, the victory was not a people’s victory. Even Chadaev admits that. “The summer heat wave and the forest fires had a much bigger influence on our decision to save the forest than the noise around the Khimki forest,” he told me, alluding to the catastrophic environmental disaster that many have blamed on human interference in nature. (“And of course it would be untrue if I said I was not interested in votes,” he added when asked whether the upcoming parliamentary elections were factored into the party’s decision.)

Moreover, the “victory” part is very much in question, too. Even the activists who led the outcry, like 32-year-old former businesswoman Yevgenia Chirikova, are already preparing for the next round. When she first heard of the decision, she gasped, “Oh my god!” a statement that was widely disseminated in equally stunned Russian news reports. But after a few hours, reality kicked in. “Our mood is, of course, a very joyous one,” she told me that evening. “But the battle is not yet won, though this is a good claim to victory.”

Ivan Blokov, a representative of Greenpeace Russia, was equally floored and more than a little puzzled. “They didn’t solve this problem before,” Blokov said. “The minister of transport was involved in this, and nothing happened. Why appeal to the president? And they could have done this on the down-low. Why this loud PR? Was this really triggered by public protests? These are completely logical questions that you and I won’t succeed in answering.”

Blokov’s statement is especially revealing. Why did United Russia appeal to the president on a deeply local matter? Why did it appeal to him over prime minister and head of the party Vladimir Putin? Chadaev explained it by saying that the problem had outgrown merely “technical” proportions. “It needs a political solution,” he said. Really? But why the president, then, and not the local governor or the Moscow mayor? “These are people who are appointed by the president,” Chadaev said. “So they have to listen to him.”

And that’s a big part of the problem: For something to be solved in Russia — say, a forest getting chopped down — the president has to get involved. No one will do anything in that middle space for fear of stepping on the wrong toes. And what is the point of a mayor or a governor when their subjects have to go up to the president to get a response out of them? In the case of the Khimki forest, the chain of feedback is especially perverted. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and the local prefect Oleg Mitvol were against the project from the start. And their impotence as intermediary actors is aptly mirrored in Blokov’s, the lowly activist and average Russian citizen, who cannot fathom why his leaders do what they do.

But the lack of effective, receptive institutional channels is a broader systemic issue. More pressing at the moment is the fact that the Khimki victory probably won’t last. For one thing, in going over Putin’s head, United Russia didn’t just defy the party boss, but a man who is personally invested in seeing the Moscow-St. Petersburg highway built exactly according to the original 2004 plan. Although he now says he is willing to entertain alternate routes, it was Putin who, last November, signed the order changing the zoning for the Khimki forest, from federally protected nature reserve (which it had been since Soviet times) to transport and industrial land. Furthermore, the man said to be behind the highway project is none other than St. Petersburg businessman Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s friend and one-time judo trainer.

Sure enough, on Friday morning, just 12 hours after Medvedev slammed the breaks on the Khimki clearing, Putin issued a statement reminding everyone that stopping the chopping did not mean stopping construction on the road. “Clearly, we need to build the road,” he said, adding that he personally made the decision to halt the work, and noting, with a characteristic touch of sinister cynicism, that “unfortunately, we occasionally encounter [people] using ecological problems in competitive [business] battles.” Shortly thereafter, a United Russia dignitary issued a statement saying that the public discourse on the fate of the forest should involve “civilized people, not forest animals” — that is, the people who had disqualified themselves by protesting the loggers in tents in Khimki.

Although it’s unlikely that the Kremlin would risk igniting another round of protests, stopping the process at the height of public discontent — and now, international celebrity attention — was a shrewd move, but it was just that: a maneuver. “The protests were tenacious and they were spreading, not dying down as they hoped. It had dragged in Moscow, as well as Shevchuk, a star of the first order in Russia, as well as Bono, who elevated Shevchuk to international celebrity status,” says Masha Lipman, a political analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center. “This was a flanking maneuver. They had to head off the wave, to take the air out of it. Now they’ve bought time; they can regroup and think of what to do next.”

And here are the possibilities: either put the road in a different location and spend even more money now that the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development has pulled out of the controversial project, or just keep going with the project as planned. In fact, the latter won’t be so difficult. On the morning after Medvedev halted the chopping, a group of journalists from the Russian business daily Vedomosti went out to the forest in Khimki. It found that the work of clearing a nearly 8-kilometer swath right through the middle of the woods was already done. It had been completed in early August.

Bono vs. Putin [FP]

Russia’s Nationalist Summer Camp

Monday, August 16th, 2010

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Shortly after 7 A.M. on a recent summer morning, the Russian national anthem wafted through the crisp air above Seliger, a system of lakes two hundred miles north of Moscow. Two swelling bars in, a light rain began to fall. Tents, clustered like mushrooms under the conifers, stirred, and dazed campers, three and a half thousand of them, crawled out of their sleeping bags. By the time they reached the gray plastic outdoor sinks to brush their teeth, the public-address system had moved on from the national hymn and through songs from Soviet cartoons to end at Bananarama’s version of “Venus.”

Seliger is a strange place, built on the model of Soviet summer camps like Artek, which were both rewards for party loyalty and sites of Communist indoctrination. It is run by Nashi, an organization created in 2005, after pro-Western “color revolutions” swept former Soviet republics and terrified the Kremlin, to provide political “training” for Russian youth. The camp, like other Nashi projects, is funded by the state, and Russian businesses cover the rest. (Nashi’s founder, Vasily Yakemenko, once stated bluntly that, with the Kremlin at its back, demanding corporate sponsorship was easy.)
Which is why sponsors’ banners littered the trees, including one from Russian Technologies, the state weapons exporter, saluting the campers with this lyrical neo-Soviet greeting:

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But the most visible sponsor this year was the nickel magnate, playboy, and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who reportedly contributed $1.5 million to underwrite the camp. Prokhorov visited Seliger for a couple days and even slept in a tent as his bodyguards roved around the camp. He gave a nearly three-hour talk, fielding questions like “How do you start a business?” and “Do you like blondes or brunettes?”

Corporate sponsorship was why, in addition to the banners, the trees were festooned with plasma screens showing Russian music videos. It is also why there is brand new gym equipment on the beach, and why the morning announcements, which begin promptly at 9 A.M., come from a fully equipped concert stage bracketed by giant portraits of President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who has a summer home nearby.

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Harder to explain was why, on this particular morning, a troupe of breakdancers led the aerobics session to the tune of James Brown’s “Get Up,” making the campers resemble those Filipino inmates made to reprise the choreography from “Thriller.”

Strangest of all, organizers welcomed nine hundred foreign students to this year’s Innovation Forum, a ten-day session meant to invoke the Kremlin’s newest five-year plan. It was an odd graft onto a summer camp usually devoted to rabid Kremlin propaganda, complete with “breeding tents” for producing Slavic babies and, in 2007, a “Red Light District,” where organizers Photoshopped the heads of opposition leaders onto the bodies of centerfolds. Despite their difficulties obtaining Russian visas, this international youth contingent, which allegedly included three Americans (who were nowhere to seen), seemed to signal that this summer would be different, that it would be in keeping with the Kremlin’s new foreign policy of moderation, coöperation, modernization. Politics were largely absent. The Nashi commissars—hard-nosed political leaders of the movement—had set up camp on the edge of the lake, and kept their presence, and their flags, to a minimum. Even the Georgian flag was flying, despite tensions with Russia, although no one had seen any of the Georgians.

If it weren’t for the odd, utopian quotes from Medvedev and Putin…

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…or for titles in the camp library (“Dmitry Medvedev’s War and Peace”; “Stalin—Victor”); or for the lecture by a Moscow professor who fretted over the decline of “Russianness” around the world and about how much uglier women in New York were, compared to his Russian travelling companions; or for the rehearsal, complete with a helicopter landing, for the visit from President Medvedev (who, when he did arrive, danced in the rain with the kids, like the tech geek that he is), Seliger seemed no different from any other summer camp.

There was the requisite inappropriate sexual activity, cool kids and uncool kids, the boys (in this case, Chechens) who kept to themselves. There was even a ridiculous fashion trend—butt pads, Styrofoam squares that strap onto one’s rear end to make sitting an option any time, anywhere—and other youthful hijinks. Dima, twenty, and Oleg, twenty-four, who studied math and physics in Moscow, decided to take the innovation part of Seliger at face value. “What is innovation?” Oleg asked rhetorically. “Innovation is improving life at Seliger!” To cook, he explained, campers had to use heavy black kettles suspended from wires strung between the tree trunks.

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His solution, however, “is compact, it doesn’t burn or degrade in the heat, and it is disposable,” Oleg explained before placing a tied-off, water-filled condom directly into the campfire.
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“Unfortunately,” he said, “we ran out of banana-flavored condoms, so today’s porridge will be plain.”
Once the foreigners went home, however, it was as if their ten-day visit, full of global cheer and moderation, had never happened. Or, worse, had been a front. Posters went up with “LIAR” painted in red letters across the faces of Kremlin critics. A picture of Lyudmila Alexeeva, the eighty-three-year-old human rights activist and head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, showed her wearing a a Wehrmacht cap. A “Fifth Column” prize was announced, for “liars, falsifiers, and those who blacken our homeland’s reputation.” For the first time, Seliger had become a model not of brainwashing but of compartmentalization. Which is a fitting reflection of today’s Russian state, reaching out to the world with one hand and, with the other, appeasing those who seek protection under a shell of intolerance and paranoia. It’s a good thing, however, that the international campers went home before the propaganda offensive began, because those two thoughts cannot ultimately coexist in one young brain—or in a government.

Russia’s Nationalist Summer Camp [TNY]

No White Knight

Friday, August 6th, 2010

When your country, simmering for days in record-breaking heat, suddenly bursts into flame in 831 places, destroying half a million acres of land, killing 52 people, blanketing your capital in toxic smoke, and threatening to release old Chernobyl radiation into the atmosphere, someone has to take charge. If you’re the Russian president, however, you will not be that person. You will sit in your office while your prime minister, his sleeves rolled up the way men of action tend to roll them up when they mean business, goes and tours the devastation, talks to grieving villagers, and shows the country that, hey, he’s on it.

After the warm Moscow-Washington spring we’ve had, one would be forgiven for believing the conventional wisdom: that the aggressive, unpredictable Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is relaxing his hold on the reins a bit, and that President Dmitry Medvedev, the shy liberal, is finally coming into his own. The events of the last week, however, have served as stark reminders of who really is in charge — and how empty the promises of Medvedev’s modernization pitch actually are.

First came the Minority Report law. Under the proposed policy, which came tucked into broader legislation designed to help Russian security forces fight terrorism, the Federal Security Service (FSB) would be able to issue warnings to people they thought were heading down the road to committing a crime — possibly by throwing them into jail for 15 days.

When the law was introduced, people hoped that Medvedev the Liberal would step in and show Russians and the world that his country had gone beyond the point of punishing its citizens for acts not yet committed. Human rights activist Lev Ponomarev told the New York Times he hoped that Medvedev would show “the courage to oppose this bill.” It would, Ponomarev said, win him much credibility and loyalty in liberal circles.

But then Medvedev cleared it up for everyone. Speaking at a press conference with Angela Merkel in Ekaterinburg on July 15, he said that not only would he sign it, but that he had initiated it. “The situation is extremely simple,” the president said. “I don’t really want to comment now on the changes in the legislation that are currently underway. But … first I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that this is our internal legal system, and not an international act. Second, every country has the right to its own legal system, including its own intelligence agency. And we will do this. And what’s happening now — I want you to know — is being done on my direct instructions.”

His statement was a tremendous disappointment, even to the president’s own men. Gleb Pavlovlovsky, who runs a think tank closely linked to Medvedev and who helped Putin get elected in 2000, sounded mournful, even doubtful, when he tried to explain the point of the new law to me. “The arguments of the law’s supporters are that it comes from a liberal idea, ‘Let’s not always open a case, let’s non-repressively warn people instead,'” he said. Sighing, he added, “Unfortunately, these amendments” — the provisions allowing the FSB to warn people before a crime is actually committed — “reintroduce an old Soviet idea of the role of the security forces and changes the concept of the law, implicitly supposing a quasi-judicial function for the FSB. These amendments carry the danger of informally expanding the powers of the FSB.” Luckily, in the final version of the law, signed on Thursday, July 29, some of the provisions were made more vague — and perhaps less enforceable — and the one allowing the FSB to publish the warning in the media was removed entirely.

That was the first thing.

The next blow came the day after the bill was signed into law. That Friday morning, news broke that Ella Pamfilova, head of the President’s Council on Civil Society Institutions and Human Rights, had abruptly resigned, giving no reason for her sudden exit. Pamfilova said she would “only say that I am planning to change the area of my activity drastically, and it will definitely be neither politics nor public service.” She sounded exhausted and bitter, and despite pleas from the human rights community — which sees the council as important, even if just as window-dressing — Medvedev made a show of accepting her resignation.

In effect, however, Pamfilova was forced out. Just before her resignation, she had criticized Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group that festooned its summer camp with vicious propaganda, putting the heads of prominent journalists and human rights defenders on sticks and Wermacht caps on their heads with the sign, “You’re not welcome here.” Speaking on a radio show, Pamfilova bemoaned the “ugly youth politics” that bent kids toward fascism and sought to “make them into little tin soldiers who can do anything on command.” “I am scared that these kids will begin coming to power in a few years,” she said. “It’ll be a doozy. This is the scariest thing. Because these fosterlings of some of our political technologists are selling their souls to the devil, to put it bluntly. They burnt books” — they didn’t — “I don’t remember, but I think they burned an effigy. What’s the next step? … Will they make their way toward people next?”

Three days later, Nashi was suing for libel and Pamfilova was gone.

This was not her first run-in with the satanic fosterlings. Last fall, Pamfilova publicly chastised Nashi for “persecuting” a journalist who had written an article the group felt was critical of veterans (it wasn’t). She refused to apologize, and several members of Putin’s United Russia party tried to have her dismissed. She was not well-loved in the circles of power. Shortly before her resignation, Alexei Chadayev, the party’s political department head, had lashed out at her on his Twitter account, calling her a “star of agitprop,” “hysterical,” and a “ghoul.”

Clearly, Pamfilova had stepped on some powerful toes, and her ouster had a sacrificial tone to it. “She had many enemies,” says Pavlovsky. After the high-profile death of lawyer Sergei Magnitsky last year, Pamfilova publicly pressured Medvedev to take action and reform Russia’s horrific prison system, antagonizing people in the Interior Ministry. As for the anti-Nashi statements, Pavlovsky told me, “Ella is very easily emotionally charged by the public mood, even if it is not based in fact.” He added, rounding off the theme of the hysterical woman lost in a man’s world, “She’s not a natural apparatchik fighter. She’s not a jedi.”

(When I called her for comment, Pamfilova insisted she had not been forced out. “I am not the kind of person that tolerates pressure,” she said. “If I wanted to stay and fight, I would’ve stayed and fought. It’s more of a fundamental question about the politics of the development of this country. President Medvedev expressed his wish that I stay, but it’s important to me what form this takes.” For now, she is on vacation. “I am completely exhausted by what has happened.”)

Throwing Pamfilova under the bus was yet another concession on Medvedev’s part to the Putin faction of chest thumpers, the more traditional coalition inside the Kremlin that still needs to balk and talk tough and, yes, thump its chest. Which brings us up to the tandem’s response to the unprecedented fires in European Russia. As Medvedev sat in his office and fired five officials for letting a naval aviation base outside Moscow burn down, Putin was with the people, showing them that he was looking out for them, that he was their leader.

Touring the destruction around Voronezh Wednesday, Putin — in a masterfully artificial charade — put in a phone call to his president, a call that was of course just coincidentally caught by the biggest state-owned TV channel. “Yes, Vladimir Vladimirovich,” says Medvedev from his ornate office, looking down, rapping his fingers on his desk. “Hello again. So, what’s going on?” “The situation is difficult,” Putin says, furrowing his brow and looking around as one does when speaking on a cell phone. It takes a few minutes of dense bureaucratic-speak — you know, your average cell-phone conversation — of Putin to tell Medvedev, in his office, removed from the people, what he needs to do, which is to rubber stamp what Putin tells him should be done, given his superior vantage point on the ground: increase the firefighting capacity, make the compensation process faster. Because nothing says equality like giving your partner a “to do” list.

No White Knight [Foreign Policy]

Russia on Fire

Thursday, August 5th, 2010

The smoke is gone for now, but the peat bogs are still boiling, and the forests are burning. As of Thursday morning, 484,000 acres of forest were burning, 17,000 more than the day before. Fifty people have reportedly died in the fires—this on top of the unknown number of deaths from temperatures higher than anything ever recorded in Western Russia. More than two thousand homes have been destroyed. All around the capital, twelve thousand peat bogs are slowly simmering, sending toxic clouds of carbon-rich smoke into the city. Alexander Chuchalin, the chief pulmonologist of Russia (who knew they had such a thing?), said that the air in the capital has gotten so bad that it was like all Muscovites had become chain smokers overnight. Current levels of carbon monoxide, he said, “damage an average of 20 percent of red blood cells in a human body, which equals to the effect of two packs of cigarettes smoked within three or four hours,” he told a news conference.

Dr. Chuchalin made this statement last Wednesday, a day that smelled vaguely of barbecue. This week, just after midnight Tuesday, the mesquite smell returned. By 4 A.M., Moscow was enveloped in a heavy fog, one that didn’t lift. By Wednesday afternoon, visibility had dropped to a hundred yards. The smoke had penetrated the city’s deepest Metro stations, which had been used as bomb shelters during the Second World War. A fine grit coated parked cars. Chests rasped, eyes watered. But Muscovites who ventured out into the thick pewter cloud soldiered on without masks. “No, we are Russians,” a nurse told my friend Miriam Elder, reporting for GlobalPost. “We believe in luck.”

Elder travelled to one of the worst-hit areas, eighty-some miles southeast of Moscow, near Ryazan. “With three colleagues, I left Moscow at 7 a.m. and got to the hospital in Moscow at 7 p.m. Twelve hours and not one moving fire truck, army truck, official emergencies ministry vehicle.” (Elder could have used help herself; she sank into a boiling sandpit, getting second-degree burns on the soles of her feet.)

This scene is playing out all over the Russian countryside, which, as always, is suffering far more than Moscow. Villagers received no fire warnings. When the fires started approaching, some had trouble reaching the local authorities. Others begged for buses to help evacuate their villages, were told to fend for themselves. Fire trucks didn’t come, either, and then their homes, made of wood, were gone in minutes. The forestry minister, meanwhile, is on his August vacation, and has no plans to cut it short.

The government’s response has been a disaster, and the people are blaming their local officials—but not the very top. When a mob of irate women descended on Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, they weren’t mad at him; they were demanding that he, as one woman put it, “string [local officials] up by the balls.”

A strong argument could be made for calling this disaster Putin’s Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, then-President Putin, in consultation with the Russian timber industry, “reformed” forestry regulations, eliminating positions for rangers, making each of the remaining ones responsible for more territory, increasing paperwork so they spent hardly any time outdoors monitoring the forests—and, on the off chance that they did spot a small fire while on patrol, making it a punishable offense (a misuse of state funds) to put it out. The organization charged with extinguishing fires was the Ministry of Emergency Situations, which responded speedily and capably to the Moscow Metro bombings in March, but a 2005 reform instituted by Putin left regional emergency outfits severely underfunded.

Except for the minority who read news in papers or online, Russians would never know that shoddy, nonsensical, industry-friendly deregulation was responsible for this natural disaster as much as the weather. Instead, the vast majority get their news from television, which has been broadcasting pictures of Putin, sleeves rolled up, touring the destruction. In a particularly fine touch, the main Russian television channel broadcast a “phone call” from Putin, ostensibly on his cell phone in the middle of a pristine birch grove, to President Dmitry Medvedev, back in his ornate Kremlin office. The message was clear: Putin was in charge, and this reassured the people who had lost homes to the fires he helped cause. “Putin said they’ll build us all new houses, so it will probably happen,” one villager told the Independent.

Putin, of course, is invoking the old archetype of the Tsar-Batyushka: the benevolent King and Father, who can magically help his subjects. It is the same role Putin plays once a year on a carefully scripted call-in television show, when supplicants call in and ask for apartments or better pensions. It is also a moment in which the Janus-faced tsar’s cruelty and greed, his indifference to his subjects, are forgotten, mostly because there is no other option. There were no other emergency valves en route to this fiery disaster—no forest rangers, fire trucks, and, of course, no insurance—and a tidy, if tiny, cash payout from Putin ex machina must still come with a huge surge of relief, gratitude, and, worse, fealty.

When the debate about places like Russia touches on democracy and the free press, one side of the conversation tends to stress a culture’s own rules: Who are we to tell them how to live? That is a fair point, and maybe democracy is not the answer here. But the unaccountable, reckless, and deeply rooted political system in Russia today—a system that can trace itself back past the days of the tsars, to the tatars, to the Mongols—is not a good one, especially not for subjects who console themselves with conspiracy theories, or the hope of a benevolent whim, or, as the nurse said, luck.

In the meantime, the fires continue to burn and, as I write this, the smell of burning wood drifts slowly back into the city.

Russia on Fire [The New Yorker]