When Will It Snow Again?

Letter From Russia

It's late September in Russia, and Muscovites are already placing wagers on when the first snow will come. The weather has simply been too good to be true; the sun has been shining and the temperatures mild, which, to the Russian mind at least, is a bad sign. The Russians have never trusted good fortune or happiness, and they naturally suspect that the pleasant weather is simply serpentine fate toying with them, instilling uncharacteristic optimism in Russia's heart, while waiting to turn on her eventually, striking like a stealthy adder. In Russia, life and history are merely a series of disasters broken up by brief periods of quiet.

Some Russians have already been reminded of their cruel fate. The fire at the gigantic Ostankino TV tower, which temporarily knocked out Russian television; the Kursk tragedy (as well as the clumsy cover-up by the usual bureaucratic suspects); the endless war in Chechnya; and the bombing in the pedestrian tunnel at Moscow's Pushkin Square have killed the hope some Russians had for their future. The "system," they believe, has outlived the series of rogues and fools who have occupied the Kremlin, and it will inevitably defeat any attempts to change it. For many others, however, hope—tempered by foreboding—remains. For the first time in anyone's memory, a man who appears to be generally competent sits in the Kremlin. By Russian standards, he is even relatively clean,...

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