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The Humor of a Sniper

Even weeks after the Politkovskaya murder, the reaction of the Russian authorities still provokes much ire among the media. This Week in Review piece in the Times by CJ Chivers is spot on.

Mr. Putin’s public appearances often reveal a president with an alert, disciplined mind. His command of detail can seem Clintonesque. But he is also prone to acidic asides, often painfully timed, that reveal all the humor of a sniper. His gaffes have become a small canon. In 2000, Larry King asked him about what happened to the Kursk, a submarine that under mysterious circumstances had ended up disabled on the sea bed with its entire crew dead. “It sank,” Mr. Putin said. Two years later, at a news conference in Brussels, a French reporter asked him a pointed question about Chechnya. Mr. Putin suggested that the reporter might want to become a radical Islamist, and invited him to Moscow for a circumcision, saying he could recommend a procedure so that nothing would grow back. The remark did nothing to dispel perceptions that sanctioned cruelty had run amok in Chechnya, a world that Ms. Politkovskaya labeled, in a book title, “A Small Corner of Hell.” For Ms. Politkovskaya, who journeyed repeatedly into that place, the price was her life. From her flower-covered casket, her breath stopped by bullets, she offered once again a peek at the Kremlin’s heart. To those who mourned her, it looked like ice.