Trying to understand Russia through the prism of the British and American news media these days can be a real headache. On one hand, if you read the business pages of the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times lately, you will learn that Russia is now one of the world's leading emerging markets, and the Russian economy has grown at an average annual rate of 7 percent since 2000. On the other hand, if you turn to the international headlines or the editorial pages, you will read that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been busy crushing democracy and reviving the Soviet Union.
While Americans are constantly having their eyes opened to the possibilities for growth and economic freedom in the People's Republic of China, a far more free and open society in Russia is judged more harshly in the Western news media. Why is this? Is it because the shelves at Wal-Marts across America are not stocked with goods from Russia? Or is it simply because, as some cynical Russians imply, there is one American and European expectation for people who "look like us," and another for others (Asians, Africans, and Arabs) who don't? Or could it be that American perceptions of Russia are still formed by a combination of stereotypes left over from the Cold War and more recent images of Russia in the nineties as the Wild East -- an exotic backwater whose main exports were supposedly mail order brides and ruthless mafias? ...
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