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From Polonium To Urine To Cocaine: Changing Face Of Russia’s Security State – OpEd


“Each nation chooses for itself its own epithet,” the poet said; but more often than not, it doesn’t always get to do that but instead has one selected for it as a result of its own actions – and quite often the epithet that sticks to it longest is one that is anything but flattering and that its people and government would be pleased to dispense with.

That is what has been happening with Russia, Igor Yakovenko says. “If Russia’s FSB earlier was associated with polonium” its officers used to kill a Kremlin opponent “and more recently almost exclusively with urine” used to hide Moscow’s massive doping effort, “now when the Russian foreign ministry is mentioned, only one association comes to mind – cocaine” (

Russian officials both at the foreign ministry and the Presidential Administration have done what they do best – lying and shifting the blame from one place to another – in an effort to quiet the scandal about the attempted shipment of 389 kilograms of cocaine via diplomatic post from Argentina to Moscow, the Russian commentator says.

But the Russian officials ran into an enemy they haven’t been able to defeat: Argentina has a free press and officials who don’t feel the need to lie to conform to what the Russian leadership wants, all the latter’s complaints about “fake news” notwithstanding. Moscow’s statements collapsed in the face of pictures and reports in both.

(The Russian authorities were able to close down Russian sites that reported too much and too accurately about what the Russian diplomats and officials had been doing: the RussianPlanes portal was shuttered after it posted a picture of “the Russian ‘cocaine’ plane in Argentina.)

It may very well be that the world will soon look away from this scandal as other ones appear; but cocaine is the kind of thing, like radioactive polonium and contaminated urine, that is just too hard for many to forget; and so Russia may retain this new epithet for a long time to come.

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Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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