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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Start Rounding Up the Usual Suspects

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Paranoia is back in the air this season in Russia. That heady mix of suspicion, hostility and fantasy is taking various forms. The most glaring example is the legislation recently proposed in the State Duma that would essentially turn all foreign NGOs into part of the Russian bureaucracy by forcing them to reregister and restricting their funding.

Part of the problem is the lingering Soviet mindset, but part is also based in reality. The old joke that even paranoids have real enemies applies here. Untrusting types have been given plenty of fodder in the 14 years since the fall of the Soviet Union. Suddenly, NATO is at Russia's doorstep, the United States has bases in the Stans and the latter is insisting successfully that Azeri oil does not flow across Russian territory. And why would it be entirely outlandish to suspect Americans of fiddling with elections in Ukraine and Georgia when they had no compunctions about doing so in 2000 in Florida?

By that logic it only makes sense for the Foreign Ministry not to extend the accreditation of ABC television employees in Russia after that network's "Nightline" program aired an interview with Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev. To Cold War types, this was the equivalent of beaming back interviews with dissidents on the Voice of America. The personalities have changed but not the principle: undermine Russia.

The front-page story of the New York Times business section on Thursday featured a map of Russia marked "CENSORED" in red above the title "Mapmakers and Mythmakers." It seems Russians are deliberately giving foreign oil engineers from companies like BP misleading maps with the longitude and latitude blotted out. This in an era when free satellite imaging programs like Google Earth are available to anyone with access to the Internet.

There is, however, some method to this madness. Only Russians with security clearances are permitted to see oil-field maps with coordinates greater than 1:2,500. Hiring them means both money in Russian pockets and more Russians with security clearances working inside Western firms who would themselves have a right to be paranoid by now.

In recent years, there have been several cases of Russian scientists being brought to trial on charges of passing information to foreign governments -- information that was freely and easily available in published sources.

The post-Soviet mindset is a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Ivan the Terrible with a little quantum physics thrown in for good measure. Opposite ideas can coexist in a sort of dynamic tension. Information can be both freely available and classified. That double mentality and paranoia also affect political parties and how they operate and are perceived. Rodina, for example, is a party that portrays itself as both left and right, though most people see its essential message as nationalistic, verging on fascistic. Recent odd behavior by the authorities -- permitting demonstrations by ultranationalists while preventing or impeding protest demonstrations against those nationalists -- has led some to the paranoid conclusion that the Kremlin is deliberately cultivating so-called fascist forces so it will have a bogeyman to run against in 2008.

Rodina did, however, take a hit over its controversial campaign video -- but like almost everything else, including Russian oil fields, it can be seen for nothing on the web. In this video, a young, blond Russian mother is pushing a baby carriage past three scruffy, swarthy types from the Caucasus who leer at her and in the best racist tradition litter the ground with watermelon rinds. The message is that Moscow has to clean out this garbage.

And so, I couldn't help but wonder when United Russia changed its logo from a brown bear to a polar bear if there wasn't some sort of unconscious racist symbolism there as well -- or maybe I'm just getting a little paranoid myself.

Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."