Hitting Russia's Refresh Button

By Daniel McGroarty

During the height of the Cold War, current news on what mattered in Moscow was hard to come by. Sovietologists cranked out entire journal articles parsing grainy photographs of May Day viewing stands, while the non-Russian speakers among us waited a day or two or three for the CIA's FBIS translations of Russian broadcasts, searching for a stray word to illuminate Moscow's mindset.

No more. Now, any English-speaker with an Internet connection can get a hundred-proof shot of Russia real-time, at www.pravda.ru. Long-time policy organ of the Communist Party, Pravda reconstituted itself a decade ago into its present virtual version. It's required reading for anyone interested in seeing America through Russian eyes.

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A quick click around a typical edition of Pravda.ru leaves little question about its editorial voice. From today's "Top Story: U.S. Missile Defense System: Most Expensive Fraud of the Century" to "Breaking News: U.S. Plans to Encircle Russia with Missiles and Radars," the Red, White and Blue Menace is apparently the sticky stuff of which site visits are made. Lest Pravda create a sense that the bear has lost its bite, Russian readers in need of reassurance can take heart that "Two Russian Nuclear Submarines Make USA Shake With Fear." The site also offers a few "pectorials" of Vladimir Putin, plus some recent snaps of the Prime Minister, descending Bond-like in his early-August excursion to the bottom of Lake Baikal via mini-sub. Question to world leaders: What did you do on your summer vacation?

Not surprisingly, Georgia is a huge news-maker on the Pravda page these days. In stories like "Does the U.S. Supply Weapons to Georgia?" we learn that - within days of 9/11 -- the U.S. commenced its effort to "spread its supremacy all over the world," funneling weapons to Georgia where they could subsequently be "used to put pressure upon Russia." "Long Live Western Lies" offers a compendium of U.S. news coverage of the first anniversary of Georgia's unfortunate encounter with the Russian war machine, which tends to find American reportage a little light on vituperation towards the tiny NATO aspirant and its president Mikheil Saakashvili - or, as a Pravda op-ed calls him, "that tie-chewing mass murdering wannabe Hitler." By way of how-to, Pravda offers its own Georgia retrospective: "Georgian Acts of Slaughter: Remembering the Victims, One Year Later."

On the subject of U.S.-Russian relations, Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments on the "withering away of Russia" still rankle: Witness the Pravda op-ed built around a catchy refrain of "Shut it, Joe!" (which does double-duty as its title). Pravda's pundit dissects the statements of "Joe Loudmouth Biden" and finds them "brash," "arrogant," "rude," "absurd," "insolent" and "pig-ignorant" - everything, in other words, except for false. With Russian male life expectancy averaging 59 years, you'd think Pravda would be more worried about raising Russian readers' blood pressure.

Over on Pravda's Business page, readers can learn about the "Great Economic Recession in Store for USA," "US Economy to go from Bad to Worse in Nearest Future," and "Global Economy Can Survive Perfectly Well without USA?" -- in what can only be a Russian rhetorical question mark. No word on whether Russian workers have over-fulfilled the 5-Year Plan, but if they don't you can bet who's to blame.

And so it is in the Russia that emerges from the pages of Pravda.ru: A Russia that is strong, yet besieged; resurgent, yet encircled -- in short, Churchill's riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, updated digitally. Bookmark the page and take a read from time to time. As the U.S. seeks a "reset" in Russian relations, hit the "refresh" for Pravda.ru to see how the world looks from the Russian side.

Daniel McGroarty, principal of Carmot Strategic Group, an international business advisory based in Washington, D.C., served in senior positions at the White House and the Department of Defense.

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