A Model Prisoner

As an infant democracy, Russia has learned to walk very strangely: for every step forward, it seems to take at least one step back. For us, watching from a distance, the process can be puzzling.

This has been the pattern for a long time. It was certainly the case last fall, when Vladimir Putin went on Russian national television and soberly admitted that Russia had a terrorism problem. The solution? Another grab for power: from then on, the country’s regional governors would no longer be chosen locally, but appointed by the president himself.

What kind of a solution was that? How could so many Russians approve?

Strangely enough, things made sense to me as I watched Putin’s announcement. What I witnessed seemed oddly connected to a series of experiences I had just had in the Russian Caucasus, where, before the airline and subway bombings, before the school siege in Beslan, I was Russia’s terrorist problem.

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