Pity the unpopular Russians. In July, Mexico elects its first president from outside the country's ruling party; The Economist magazine labels it a "real democracy." Russia elects a president from the political opposition in 1991, then holds no fewer than five competitive, generally free, national elections in the following years; The Economist calls it a "phony democracy." Colombia has a problem with organized crime, and Washington gives its government $1.3 billion to help fight the drug lords. Russia also has a problem with organized crime, and American politicians sternly lecture Moscow not to expect any more aid until it cleans up its act. An undercover U.S. operation finds several Mexican banks laundering drug money in the United States, and Washington apologizes to the Mexicans for conducting sting operations on their territory. An American bank allegedly launders money for Russian organized criminals, and a leading senator accuses the Russian government of being "the world's most virulent kleptocracy." When the Asian crisis scares investors away from the Brazilian market and the real collapses, commentators declare it a bump in the road. When the Asian crisis scares foreign investors away from the Russian market and the ruble collapses, commentators declare the crash proof of the failure of liberal economic reform in Russia.
That many Russians these days see a double standard in Western opinion toward their country is perhaps not altogether surprising. As readers of the Western press know, there are no businessmen in Russia, only mafiosi; no democrats, only corrupt politicians; no citizens, only an impoverished, nationalistic mass. Members of the emerging Russian middle class are often discouraged to learn, upon picking up Western papers, that they do not yet exist.
It has not always been this way. As Stephen Cohen points out in his new book, the Western press was overwhelmingly supportive of Boris Yeltsin and his attempts at reform in the early 1990s. But around 1998, a sea change occurred. Without acknowledging any change of position, Western editorials switched from a guarded optimism
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