The Economist betrays even more nervousness about running a story this belatedly with another strange insertion in the opening sentence:
"On the evening of August 22nd, 1992 - 16 years ago this week [note the ludicrous time-peg, "16 years ago this week" - Ed.] - Alexei Kondaurov, a KGB general, stood by the darkened window of his Moscow office and watched a jubilant crowd moving towards the KGB headquarters in Lubyanka Square..."
Let's leave aside for now the very strange decision to anchor an anti-silovik story to Kondaurov - a former KGB general who was a top Yukos executive (respect to the PR firm that helped arrange that). A couple of paragraphs later, we are introduced to Kryshtanovskaya and her four-year-old study. Here, The Economist pulls a classic example of censorship-by-omission: "According to research by Olga Kryshtanovskaya, a sociologist at the Russian Academy of Sciences, a quarter of the country's senior bureaucrats are siloviki - a Russian word meaning, roughly, 'power guys', which includes members of the armed forces and other security services, not just the FSB. The proportion rises to three-quarters if people simply affiliated to the security services are included. These people represent a psychologically homogeneous group, loyal to roots that go back to the Bolsheviks' first political police, the Cheka."
They never mention when the report was published, because if they did - "According to a report four years ago..." - it would kind of contradict the "now" in the sub-header. So you just don't mention it. Instead, you crudely manipulate her findings: "the proportion [of siloviki] rises to three-quarters if people simply affiliated to the security services are included."
Is that really what Kryshtankovskaya reported? In an interview with Radio Free Europe last year, she explained "The 78 percent figure...is not a precise figure." But precision, a quantum journalist might argue, is itself a relative concept.
* * *
For the last few years, The Economist has been waging a relentless, obsessive-compulsive campaign to rebrand Russia and Vladimir Putin as a Fascist state and a Fascist regime. Consider last year's "The Hardest Word":
"It is an over-used word, and a controversial one, especially in Russia. It is not there yet, but Russia sometimes seems to be heading towards fascism."
That's as serious a charge as can possibly be levied - Nazi Germany with thousands of nuclear weapons. Fascism in the popular consciousness has a pretty simple, straightforward definition: a country that will invade and enslave the world by force, and gas its Jews. Is that Russia? Because if Russia really is Fascist, then what the fuck are we doing here? Every foreigner should run screaming for the border! The West should demand the immediate and unconditional surrender of the Kremlin or else...or else we'll blow the whole fucking world to smithereens by midnight tomorrow. I'm serious: If Russia is Fascist, what are we waiting for? Isn't this the lesson of the 30s - attack now! Don't wait! Drop the bomb before it's too late, launch the entire arsenal and say hello to Jesus!!!
The Economist gets around this death-of-mankind problem by softening up its definition of Fascism, thereby making it fit Russia while at the same time defusing its seriousness: "History also offers a term to describe the direction in which Russia sometimes seems to be heading: a word that captures the paranoia and self-confidence, lawlessness and authoritarianism, populism and intolerance, and economic and political nationalism that now characterise Mr Putin's administration."