Ten years ago, Russia seemed to have hit bottom, reduced in a few years from superpower to basketcase. Western experts swarmed over the country, eager to gloat, grieve or just plain get laid.
Then things got worse. After a few years of thieving and whoring their way through Russia, or at least central Moscow, the foreigners did something far harder to forgive: they left. And when they left, the world forgot about Russia completely. Russians discovered the hard way that the only thing worse than being exploited is being totally ignored. What's the use of being tragic if nobody's looking?
Instead of asking, "Who lost Russia?" the way they used to, Western Op-Ed writers asked, "Who cares?" The world didn't even have the decency to pretend to be afraid of Russia's huge nuclear arsenal of vast territory any more.
Then, for one magic moment when Putin came to power, it looked as if he might put Russia back on center-stage as the man the West loved to hate. But he turned out to be "the man the West harbored certain ambivalences about" -- and that just wasn't spicy enough to get Russia the airtime it deserves. Now, they're not even asking who cares, because clearly nobody does.
So once again it's up to us, the eXile, to save Russia and teach the rest of the world a little goddamn respect.
Russia matters. Because we say so.
But if that's not good enough for you naysayers, we've got a whole 50 reasons why Russia is still your best entertainment value.
1. Ex-military tourists
Russia is the only place left where pudgy Western war-buffs can still feel good about themselves. You see them strolling through Red Square gloating about the fact that the Evil Empire fell without firing a shot. With the way things are going in Iraq, winning by forfeit the way we did in the Cold War may be our only chance for victory. Russia must survive, if only to give these lonely, ugly men a few moments of vindictive pleasure.
Berlusconi doesn't want to be the shortest guy at G-8 meetings. Why else would he refer to the Russian president as "mio caro amico Vladimiro," put Putin's wife and daughters up for the month of August free of charge at his private villa in Sardinia, and let Russian warships dock in Naples for the first time EVER? The Italian prime minister recently traveled to Russia to cut the ribbon on a new washing machine factory. A washing machine factory. We'll let you do the math on this one.
3. North Korea's counterfeit dollars
Without the money it makes by selling counterfeit $100 bills, North Korea would soon collapse. Waves of refugees and illegal weapons would pour into Northern China and South Korea, leading to a crime wave, destabilization and massive suffering. Only Russia can provide North Korea with the criminal infrastructure it needs to ensure that those fake $100 bills make it to the world market.
4. Used cars
Ever wonder how an island as small as Japan can find the room for scrap yards? Thanks to Russians' willingness to snap up even the most corroded rear-wheel drive Mazda on the market, the Japanese don't have to! Environ-Nazis in Europe also reap the benefits of having a partner eager to buy heavy polluting diesel vehicles and move them far downwind.
5. Troops preoccupied
Do you have any idea how many troops it would take to destroy Russia? A platoon, at the very least. Where are we going to get that platoon? Every soldier we've got is ducking bullets at some dusty intersection in Iraq. The Pentagon is paying mercenaries corporate-lawyer wages to ride shotgun on Pampers convoys to Najaf. We've got nobody to spare. Besides, the Russians just might get motivated and fight back. And if they did, an army that can't handle Iraq might not do too well on the Eastern Front.
6. The New York Times
They need to break in their inexperienced reporters somewhere, and why not Russia? You may have noticed the wave of recent enthusiastic assessments of the Russian economy under Erin Arvedlund's byline. It's not a name one's apt to forget, but damned if we've ever seen it before about a year ago. Of course, that's only because we don't pay much attention to e-publications like thestreet.com. Still, our point stands: young reporters need to get their feet wet before they head off to places where things happen that actually matter, and that's why Russia matters.
7. Hollywood villains