What Is To Be Done?

Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s irrepressible spokesman, said today that Russia would like to know what it could do to get sanctions reduced.

This, of course, set tongues wagging, both in Russia and abroad, although most of those tongues seem to have assumed the question was rhetorical. And of course, at least in part, it was – but not entirely. Peskov has denied that Putin and Donald Trump discussed steps towards reducing sanctions when they met in Helsinki, but I’m not certain that particular denial is credible. And just about everyone assumes sanctions were on the agenda when Putin and Merkel met on August 18th.

On the face of it, of course, the answer is blindingly obvious: Stop doing things the US and Europe don’t like. Questions of fairness aside, one does not need to be Kissinger to parse the realpolitik here. And yet, that obviousness is deceptive.

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Caveat Emptor

There’s a pattern to this: Washington makes a statement, Moscow braces for impact.

Just today, the Russian ruble is down about 3% vs the US dollar, while stock indices dropped between 0.8% and 2.9%, depending on the index (and that’s in ruble terms). The conventional wisdom is that both cascades were driven by sanctions worries coming out of the Trump Administration.


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Ответ Чемберлену

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.

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The Metastasis of War

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.

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Russia Votes

“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.

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The Porton Down Troll

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:

Porton Down is a United Kingdom science park, situated just northeast of the village of Porton near Salisbury, in Wiltshire, England.”

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