Can Russia Sink Any Lower?

The rest of the world can only look on with bewilderment at the absurdity of Russia's behavior. Russia, it would seem, is paranoid about becoming irrelevant on the world stage.
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Are you kidding me? Just when there were no more independent-minded Russian journalists to slay, no more KGB-affiliated goons to elevate to higher office, no more human rights organizations to harass, no more ways to come off as backward in the eyes of the civilized world, Russia goes out and does the unthinkable. It bars, of all nefarious institutions, the British Council. The British Council! Heavens, where are lost expats going to check their email for free? Where will ESL instructors get their language tapes? Where will all those unruffled-through Economist magazines go? Shutting down the British Council in the country that gave us the Lubyanka prison is a little like closing down a mom-and-pops bookstore in Las Vegas for selling sinful magazines. State officials have begun harassing British Council employees. Russian police in St. Petersburg even detained the Council's director for, of all things, having alcohol on his breath while driving (Insert your own pot-calling-the-kettle-black quip here)--when he hadn't even been drinking, according to coworkers.

Of course, the real reason Russia is trying to shutter the British Council is to protest the expulsion of Russian diplomats from London, better known as Moscow on the Thames. Also, a few Kremlin hardliners suspect the Council of being a front for British intelligence. Relations have been sour since Russia refused to cooperate in the British investigation of the November 2006 poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko--a London-based former KGB operative-turned-Russian dissident.

Good for the British for refusing Moscow's orders to shut down. The rest of the world can only look on with bewilderment at the absurdity of Russia's behavior. When Russia is not banning Georgian spirits, it's blocking access to English-language textbooks. When it's not bullying its neighbors by shutting down their oil supply, it's selling nuclear fuel to Iran. Russia, it would seem, is paranoid about becoming irrelevant on the world stage. It knows that once oil prices go down, its importance abroad will shrink. So to keep itself in the game, as it were, Moscow stirs up trouble from time to time and tries to export its goon-like behavior to the rest of the civilized world--then bristles when other countries don't bend to its will. I guess this is what happens when you give the keys of the Kremlin to former spooks.

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