Guest / Limited Access /

When Russian President Vladimir Putin walks up to a boy in Red Square and—as if impromptu—lifts the kid's shirt and smooches his belly, as the postcommunist tsar did this summer, remember this: His government hired the American PR firm Ketchum to make Russia look good.

A winsome reputation is not easy to come by in a place where not only are oil profits skyrocketing, but so are less flattering things—numbers of skinheads, homeless orphans, violent crimes against minorities, aids infections, and incidents of religious discrimination. Then there's the leprosy of the Russian soul—the corruption permeating all levels of society. What PR campaign could pretty it up?

I got a glimpse of this turpitude at the airport in the famous south Russian resort town of Mineralnye Vody, on the northern edge of the Caucasus, Europe's tallest, austerely beautiful mountains. A band of airport security and police officers there shake down foreigners for bribes.

When they're handed a foreign passport, the uniformed mafiosos look for a piece of paper issued to all visitors entering Russia. Hotel desk employees are supposed to stamp it for the purpose of tracking. For some reason, they often fail to do that. (Would it be paranoid to wonder if the area hotel desk workers could be in cahoots with the airport gang?)

Upon finding gaps in the stamps, security officers call the airport police. The police take the foreigners to an office with heavy steel doors. They insist that the foreigners broke the law, even though they didn't. When this happened to me and a friend last May, our Russian guide, Sergey Rakhuba, stepped inside the interrogation room to intervene. (He knew what he was dealing with: Not long ago, at the same airport, his ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Taste and See
Agnieszka Tennant is a former associate editor and editor at large for Christianity Today. She earned her master's degree in international relations at the University of Chicago, where she focused on how religiously-rooted norms influence world politics. Her "Taste and See" column ran from 2006 to 2007.
Previous Taste and See Columns:
Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only IDing ID's Designer
Darwin's Nemesis shows why the debate isn't going away.
RecommendedWhat You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’
What You Probably Don’t Know about ‘The Least of These’
A more biblically accurate understanding of Jesus' words in Matthew 25.
TrendingWhy Do We Have Christmas Trees?
Why Do We Have Christmas Trees?
The history behind evergreens, ornaments, and holiday gift giving.
Editor's PickThe Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
The Bible Never Says ‘All Men Are Created Equal’
How the New Testament offers a better, higher calling than the Declaration of Independence.
Christianity Today
To Russia with Fury
hide thisOctober October

In the Magazine

October 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.