Whenever one conjures an image of a slick and stealth Russian spy, you might think of the lethal efficiency of Andrei Lugovoi or perhaps the more literary John Le Carre-invented spymaster Karla. What you might not imagine is that one of the FSB’s hardest working agents is a coke whore, and that her targets are not related to national security, but rather she takes down the weak opposition with humiliating and discrediting kompromat. Prostitutes and drugs always make for irresistible tabloid fodder, but it’s up for debate whether or not this is the best use of state funds, or whether these videos (which have even targeted a U.S. diplomat in the past) are really having the desired effect.
When the honey trap snagged its biggest fly, the famous satirist Viktor Shenderovich, reactions have been mixed. Writing on the Huffington Post, Simon Shuster argues that for once, this one really hurts, given Shenderovich’s revered status. On the other hand, Julia Ioffe writes on Foreign Policy that the reaction has been relatively muted, and that she believes that the scandal has backfired (quoted below). Regardless of how it plays, here we have yet another example of this government uses official powers not to pursue real crime and administer justice, but rather to invent it for their own political purposes in the most shameful fashion. Further for how often we hear that the opposition is so weak, disorganized, and lacking in popular support, this sure is an awful lot of effort to put toward discrediting such an allegedly non-threatening group.
Yet nothing much happenedthat Thursday morning: For the most part, the story sank like a stone.In fact,the main thing people wondered about was why Russia’s opposition — asplintered, leaderless scrum already so effectively neutered by theKremlinthat they don’t have a single seat in the Duma — would be the focus ofsuch anelaborate hit job. There are no elections coming up, and none of thosetargetedhave made a bid for power recently — because they know they’rehopeless. EvenShenderovich is no longer the star he used to be. He lost his televisionplatform when NTV was wrested away by the government, and he has beeneffectively blacklisted ever since.
Moreover, Russians havealways loved womanizers. It is central to the concept of muzhik,the manly salt-of-the-earth man. Whenever a rumor ofanother Yeltsin woman surfaced, his ratings spiked instantly. When AlinaKabaeva, the rhythmic gymnast with R-rated flexibility,was said to be thenew Mrs. Putin — and mother of his only son — it did not hurt theprimeminister one bit. Even the most recent sex tape scandal — in 1999,prosecutorYuri Skuratov, who antagonized both Yeltsin and Putin, wasfilmed in bed withtwo young women — had no serious ramifications. Skuratov was already introuble for exposing government graft, but the sex tape, promoted byPutin onnational TV, just made the Kremlin look bad, and the person deemedresponsiblefor making it was quickly fired.