Уважаемый мой друг Василий Гатов решил устроить разбор негодной ему статьи New York Times, что, безусловно, дело благородное. Данной газеты являюсь преданным читателем, но это не означает, что я к тому же и защитник каждого написанного ими слова. Боже упаси. Да и спорить с Василием о журналистике — дело страшное. По этим и другим причинам, нижеследующий текст скорее всего написать не стоило. Но написал. Потому, что люблю Васю. И с ним не согласен.
The journalists who called me this morning about Bill Browder got sent away: I’ve got a book manuscript to finish, and, to be honest, there’s nothing new I can say about Browder that I really feel like saying on the record.
But the journalists who called about Arkady Babchenko — that’s another story.
When they called — first to chat, then to schedule an interview — the outspoken anti-Kremlin journalist who had sought refuge in Kyiv was still dead. By the time I went on air, of course, he was alive.
“What, aren’t you Russian?”
The man, in his late 80s or older, was clearly irritated by something the woman – by the looks of it, somewhere in her mid-50s – had said. The conversation, in the presence of their respective spouses, took place over tea and cake not far from Moscow. (Some would call it eavesdropping. I call it ad hoc sociology.)
“Of course I’m Russian,” the woman replied, using the ethnic русская, as had her interrogator, rather than the civic adjective российская. “That’s why I’m not voting.”
“Then you don’t respect yourself or your country,” the older man retorted.
“No,” she said. “It’s exactly because I respect myself and my country that I don’t want to participate in this farce.”
It was less than 24 hours before polls would open for Russia’s presidential election. The TV in the corner of the room began airing a retrospective on Oleg Tabakov, the legendary actor and theater director who passed away recently, and thus the conversation shifted to something on which the four people around the table could agree.
On deadlines, lines in the sand (snow?), lines of inquiry and dividing lines, for BBC World Service Radio, just now.
So, not knowing much about Porton Down — the British military-linked science facility helping to investigate the Salisbury attack and that identified the nerve agent used on Sergei Skripal as the Russian/Soviet “Novichok” compound — I went to the font of all knowledge: Wikipedia.
Here’s the first line of Porton Down’s Wikipedia entry as it currently stands:
Maybe I’ve missed something, but as best I can tell most Americans – indeed, most in the West in general – aren’t aware of the fact that, two weeks ago, US troops repelled a Russian attack in Syria, killing maybe as many as several hundred people (and losing none of their own).
Here’s the contemporaneous report from CNN. If you read Russian, though, you’ll learn a lot more from Pavel Felgengauer’s article today in Novaya Gazeta. In a nutshell: On 7 Feb., a unit of pro-Assad troops including some number of Russians – most likely from the ‘Vagner’ private military co (Russia’s version of Blackwater) – moved on an oil facility near Deir ez-Zor, controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.
There’s a phrase in Russian – which I’m sure I’ve written about before – that warns against paying too much attention to “the average temperature in the hospital” (средняя температура по больнице, an indicator of patients’ aggregate health that is easily measured but generally meaningless). It’s a phrase that comes increasingly to mind every time I read or hear that Russia’s economy is set to grow by 2% of GDP this year: that figure might make Economy Minister Maksim Oreshkin feel good about his stewardship, but it masks quite a range of ailments.