Andrew Osborn

 

 

Chief Russia Correspondent

 

Deputy Bureau Chief Russia/CIS

 

Reuters

 

 

Russian Revelation: Katya, the Kremlin's sexist secret weapon

E!Sharp, 1st July 2010 09:39

She is in her early twenties, likes to pose in her underwear, and has classic girl-next-door looks. But, if her “victims” are to be believed, she is also the Kremlin’s latest and sexiest secret weapon.

In a literal sense that is. In a story as colourful as it is surreal, the Kremlin’s critics claim they are under attack from a James Bond-style glamour girl called Katya whose mission is to lure them into compromising situations. Wags have quipped that they too would like to be targeted by Katya but her “victims” – ranging from top magazine editors to anti-Kremlin opposition leaders – say it is no laughing matter.

In the murky tradition of Cold War-style honey traps, they say Katya tempts her (often married) targets with kinky sex and hard drugs and then films the ensuing debauchery with hidden cameras. The high-profile “marks” can then be blackmailed, or, if they refuse to cooperate, see their reputations ripped to shreds as videos of their exploits are released onto YouTube.

That, at least, is the theory. The list of people she has targeted includes about half a dozen high-profile Kremlin critics and there are thought to be more videos awaiting release. The only problem for whoever dreamt up the classic sting is that it has not really worked. Such scandals would undoubtedly see heads roll in the West but in Russia, where male machismo is firmly entrenched and marital fidelity far from common, the attitude to the compromised “victims” has instead largely been “Good on you.”

“Let me get this straight,” wrote Ilya Krasilschik, editor of Afisha magazine. “You fight the regime, and in exchange the regime brings you free chicks and blow [drugs]? Duly noted.”

One area where the Kremlin has been having more success, however, is Ukraine. When Viktor Yanukovich, the country’s new Kremlin-friendly president, assumed office in February, it was widely assumed that he would steer Ukraine firmly back into Russia’s orbit after five years of pro-Western “Orange” power. But the speed at which he has repositioned Ukraine geopolitically has shocked detractors and supporters alike.

Within the first one hundred days of his presidency, Ukraine agreed to host Russia’s Black Sea Fleet until at least 2042, dropped its NATO membership bid, begun reinstating the importance of the Russian language, struck a gas deal with Russia, and opened talks with Moscow on merging the two countries’ nuclear and aircraft construction industries. Insiders say even the new Ukrainian government has been surprised and is a little nervous about the speed of its own transformation. At the same time, Ukraine’s new leaders say they want to join the EU even as they concede privately that membership is years, if not at least a decade or more, away. There are those who impugn the EU for not doing more to encourage Ukraine’s European aspirations over the years. Now, they say, it is perhaps too late.

With the country facing a bleak economic future, they say it will be forced to make an obvious but geopolitically far-reaching choice. “The Ukrainians are in a really difficult spot,” says one senior diplomat. “The Russians are offering them all kinds of goodies right now, while the EU is only promising things that may or may not happen in the distant future. What would you do?”

There is also the not insignificant question of Russia’s own relationship with the EU. The latest joint summit, in the Russian town of Rostov, was a reminder of how sclerotic and empty that relationship has become. Aside from what even the participants know are largely meaningless declarations and vague joint programmes that may or may not result in anything tangible, such meetings are in danger of looking like wasted journeys.

One example concerns a subject close to millions of ordinary Russians’ hearts: visas. Each time such a summit approaches, Russian newspapers print sensationalist and patently untrue stories about how the EU is on the cusp of granting Russia’s 140 million-strong population visa-free travel.

These stories are planted by Russian officials who want to offer hope to a population whose possibility to travel the world remains severely restricted. Yet the same officials know the EU is nowhere near to granting such a concession. They float these false stories to pile pressure on the EU to change its stance. But they also float them to keep themselves in power by giving people a (in this case) false hope of a better future to appease them and keep a lid on social tensions.

It would be great if the EU could articulate its position on such issues more honestly and publicly so as not to unwittingly be party to such cynical power games. It would be even better if such summits were only held when there was something substantive on the agenda. Hope, as the Russians say, is the last thing to die.