Clear or blank?

An old Soviet joke goes like this:

A dissident is standing on a corner handing out blank leaflets.

– Wait a second, there’s nothing written here!

– What’s the point of writing? It’s all clear.

Looking back at Russia’s 2018 fiascoes, one might be tempted to agree: it’s all clear – it’s going downhill like a brakeless rattletrap. Two space-related screw-ups, one of them a failed launch that was merely the latest in a lengthening series. A collapsing crane, a sunken drydock, and the country’s only aircraft carrier indefinitely out of service. And, of course, the post-Salisbury comings-out, fit for a British spoof movie if it weren’t for the victims.

Shipbuilding aside, circumterrestrial flights and extraterritorial liquidations once were among the Evil Empire’s core competencies. However, these competencies are hardly essential to a healthy economy, to say nothing of a decent society, and their erosion should not, by itself, provide a cause for concern for the state of the nation. How unhappy is the land that lacks a good assassin, after all? But studying the recent embarrassments in all their cringeworthy detail can help understand how things work and people act in today’s Russia.

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