So let's take a slightly different tack. I have always been fascinated by the country of Russia, its history, its language, its geography, its politics. And this week's death of the vodka-embalmed Boris Yeltsin was surprising only in that it hadn't happened ten years ago. But in skimming the requisite encomia from the usual suspects, it occured to me just how little of value had ever floated over the transom in the American media, when it came to getting past Yeltsin's cartoonish antics and digging into anything substantial. Mostly all we ever got about the guy, dead or alive, drunk or drunker, was this sort of boilerplate:
Just because Russia is no longer communist does not mean it is now "liberated"; it simply means that a different mafiya family is running things, one which is a lot less reticent about their love for money and dominance.
Here is the sort of journalism you can get when the writer has actually lived in the country, knows its people and systems, and is not more concerned with couching his homilies in pseudo-liberation claptrap than actually calling people what they were:
Pretty sweet. And at first you figure, well, there's perhaps a sharper portait of the lovable lushsky we all thought we knew. But it gets ugly quick, and directly contradicts Chuckie K's assertions of Borya's "soft power" dedication to democracy.
Of course, some of these unfortunates, most notably Politkovskaya and Litvinenko, and probably Lebed as well, were killed by Yeltsin's successor, the famously good-souled Pooty-Poot, rather than Yeltsin himself. Yeltsin's skills were apparently much more profit-oriented, but by any means necessary.
There's a lot more, very detailed, fascinsting stuff. The guy was, as Taibbi points out, essentially Tony Soprano with a bottomless bottle. And while some Russians have indeed been able to make a go of it in the post-communist era, most have not; the country and its immense resources are simply there for the plundering by the families at the top. Yeltsin enabled this, and Putin has crystallized that vision.
I don't agree with much of what Krauthammer has to say, obviously, but I wouldn't even blame his myopic obit on him. It's endemic to practically every mainstream commentator out there. It's just symptomatic of how we've always viewed and portrayed Russia, warily, as a fallen adversary whom we're just glad has the "right" ideology at long last. Factory workers literally getting paid in rancid bacon and rotten eggs is incidental -- at least it's not commie bacon and eggs.
But with its long history of insularity and internal brutality, its appalling life expectancy, demographic projections, and economic conditions, its truncated political and legal structure, and its immense arsenal of dangerous weapons, Russia can be problematic precisely because it's too big to fail.
After Yeltsin and Putin and whoever else gets their taste of the pot and retires in splendor, do the gangsters really running things simply allow the immense border to be surrounded with fractious, failed "seam states", while they continue to plunder from within? Or is possible anymore to nudge them in a more sustainable direction, to help them and help their neighbors -- and ultimately ourselves -- in the process?