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Paying The Kremlin

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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With the recent inauguration of new president Dmitry Medvedev, how have things changed in Russia? Is the authoritarian freeze of the Vladimir Putin years starting to melt into a glorious new spring of freedom? Mark Ames, founder of Russian newspaper the Exile (and Radar contributor), will provide occasional dispatches in pursuit of an answer to that question ... if the authorities don't lock him up first.

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THE COST OF NOT DOING BUSINESS Ames Today's lesson is that even after the Russian authorities have destroyed you, they're not satisfied; they still have to humiliate you in little ways. And even then, they're annoyed with you.

I went to the Russian state bank and paid the 500 ruble ($22) fine to the government for all of the little administrative screw-ups in my now-defunct newspaper, the Exile, which was effectively shut down over a week ago by the authorities. The fines I paid today are completely separate from the alleged "extremism" or "drug-promotion" or "mockery of Russian traditions" that our paper is currently being investigated for. We were indeed guilty of all sorts of little errors that starched 'n professional media types would never flub—we forgot to put in our new address, forgot to use Cyrillic fonts in the masthead, forgot to print our license number—but more than anything, we forgot to show the appropriate enthusiasm for President Medvedev, an enthusiasm which should be calibrated just a respectable notch or so below his mentor, the slightly-less-vertically-challenged Vladimir Putin.

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