Dmitri Medvedev

Russia! One day, you criticize the Kremlin. The next, you come downstairs to find a 200-pound sculpture of a penis chained to your car.

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Mitt Romney declared last month, to some incredulity, that he owns several guns.

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As you may have heard, Barack Obama got caught chatting with Dmitri Medvedev on a mike that he didn't realize was on. Here's what they said: “On all these issues, but particularly missile defense, this, this can be solved but it’s important for him to give me space,” Obama can be heard telling Medvedev, apparently referring to incoming Russian president — and outgoing prime minister — Vladi­mir Putin. “Yeah, I understand,” Medvedev replies, according to an account relayed by an ABC News producer, who said she viewed a recording of the discussion made by a Russian camera crew.

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Alexei Slapovsky’s 2010 novel, March on the Kremlin, opens with a young poet being accidentally killed by a policeman. Not knowing whom to blame and what to do, the poet’s mother picks up the body and, cradling her dead son in her arms, walks almost unconsciously toward the Kremlin. Her son’s friends trail close behind. Across the city, just as the mother is starting her long trek in pursuit of justice, an aging drunkard decides that his brother, who died the previous night, deserves to be interred by the Kremlin walls. So he, too, heads toward the Kremlin.

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We’re supposed to be living in an Age of Democracy, but not every world leader, it seems, has gotten the memo. Vladimir Putin announced last week that he plans to return to the Russian presidency next year, and he could stay there for two more six-year terms, until 2024. Putin has been Russia’s dominant ruler since 2000—the last three years, as Prime Minister, nominally junior to his protégé, Dmitri Medvedev, the current president, but only nominally. Medvedev, as suspected, turned out only to be a seat warmer. So the mask is off, and Putin and Putinism stand triumphant.

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Silicon Implant

When Dmitri Medvedev became Russia’s president in 2008, he projected a very different image from that of his predecessor. Vladimir Putin is a buff former KGB agent who is fond of rugged pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, and is frequently photographed engaged in them without his shirt on. Medvedev is an elfin St. Petersburg-trained lawyer who enjoys chess and photography, practices yoga daily, and is the proud owner of the complete recordings of Deep Purple on vinyl.

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After last November’s election, one might have expected the Obama White House and Democratic Congress to take six weeks off to mull their defeat. Instead, they used the lame duck session in December to win cloture-proof majorities for some very significant bills. Just today, the Senate ratified the new START arms control treaty by a whopping 71 to 26 vote. On December 18, the Senate voted by 65 to 31 to strike down the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the armed forces. Today’s ratification of the New Start treaty reduces U.S.

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Frenemies

A verdict in the trial of Mikhail Khodorkovsky—formerly Russia’s richest man and the founder of what was once the country’s largest private company, Yukos—is due to be read on December 15. Yet long before November 2, when Judge Viktor Danilkin of the Moscow Khamovnichesky District Court heard the final statements of prosecution and defense, adjourned the trial, and withdrew to his chambers to deliberate, the Moscow rumor mill had churned out a spate of likely sentences. They range from acquittal to the 14 years that the prosecutors asked for.

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Tired of the famous Churchillian formula about how hard it is to understand what goes on in the Kremlin (it’s a riddle, a mystery, an enigma, etc.), the American diplomat Chip Bohlen reportedly once joked, “No, it’s not—it’s a secret.” A crucial distinction, confirmed by President Medvedev’s dramatic firing of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov on Tuesday. It would be nice, of course, to know whether the decision really put Medvedev at odds with his predecessor and patron, When Putin said in August that those who demonstrate without a permit deserve a good beating, he was explicitly backing Luzhkov.

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Václav Klaus, the president of the Czech Republic, is legendary for his lack of manners. When his country assumed the rotating presidency of the European Union in 2009, Klaus—a stocky and vigorous man with close-cropped white hair and a fastidiously trimmed moustache—got into a scrap with a group of European politicians because he had refused to fly the EU flag above his office in Prague Castle. Nicolas Sarkozy pronounced the snub “hurtful,” yet Klaus was anything but contrite. Instead, he used his first address to the European Parliament to compare the EU to the Soviet Union.

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