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Longform's Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform's new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

 

The Loneliness of Vladimir Putin, by Julia Ioffe, the New Republic

He crushed his opposition and has nothing to show for it but a country that's falling apart.

Putin's fist came down hard after that. On June 11, the homes of Navalny and other opposition leaders were searched. (That morning, Maria Baronova got a call from her terrified nanny, saying that detectives from the state's Investigative Committee had climbed onto the apartment's balcony and turned on an electric saw.) Then came the arrests. The CEO of VKontakte, Russia's version of Facebook, which had played a key part in organizing the protests, was summoned for questioning and was forced to temporarily flee the country in the spring of 2013. Non-loyal media outlets began to close, and others struggled, citing solvency issues that were not totally accidental. Two of Dozhd's biggest advertisers, owned by the same oligarch, tore up their contracts with the channel within ten minutes of each other. By the time I left Moscow in September, there were still a few opposition rallies, but they felt timid and flat. The old Russian fear that had so miraculously vanished that winter came creeping back.

This past December, I went back to Moscow to see what had become of the protest movement and the opposition leaders I had written about during those first heady days. Two Decembers later, Putin was firmly in charge, and Bolotnaya Square was empty. But the future was not quite as clear as it seemed: The opposition was in disarray, and Putin had won his battle against them. And yet, his position seemed even shakier than before.

 

Inside the Iron Closet: What it's Like to Be Gay in Putin's Russia, by Jeff Sharlet, GQ

On the eve of the Olympics, Jeff Sharlet embeds with the new enemies of the state.

I wanted to see what ordinary LGBT life was like in a nation whose leaders have decided that "homosexualism" is a threat to its "sexual sovereignty," that "genderless tolerance," in Putin's words, is a disease of the West that Russia will cure. The medicine is that of "traditional values," a phrase, ironically, imported from the West, grafted onto a deeply conformist strain of nationalism. In Russia, that means silence and violence, censorship, and in its shadow, much worse.

One of the first men I met was Alex, a gay police officer who'd recently quit his job rather than enforce Russia's new anti-gay law. He wasn't always so principled: One of Alex's early assignments on the force was snooping through a fellow officer's computer for evidence of homosexuality. "I was just lucky it wasn't my computer," Alex said one night at a café on Arbat Street, Moscow's main thoroughfare of consumer hipsterism.

His boyfriend wasn't as glib: "It's Germany in the '30s," he declared. "Hush, hush," Alex said. "Not so loud." It's not Germany in the '30s, he said; it's Russia now. And that's a subtler problem.

 

Dear America, I Saw You Naked, by Jason Edward Harrington, Politico Magazine

And yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.

Most of my co-workers found humor in the I.O. room on a cruder level. Just as the long-suffering American public waiting on those security lines suspected, jokes about the passengers ran rampant among my TSA colleagues: Many of the images we gawked at were of overweight people, their every fold and dimple on full awful display. Piercings of every kind were visible. Women who'd had mastectomies were easy to discern-their chests showed up on our screens as dull, pixelated regions. Hernias appeared as bulging, blistery growths in the crotch area. Passengers were often caught off-guard by the X-Ray scan and so materialized on-screen in ridiculous, blurred poses -- mouths agape, à la Edvard Munch. One of us in the I.O. room would occasionally identify a passenger as female, only to have the officers out on the checkpoint floor radio back that it was actually a man. All the old, crass stereotypes about race and genitalia size thrived on our secure government radio channels.

 

Syria's Polio Epidemic: The Suppressed Truth, by Annie Sparrow, the New York Review of Books

A silent health crisis is brewing in Syria.

Once the most feared disease of the twentieth century, polio in most countries had long ago passed into the history books. Syria was no exception. Polio was eliminated there in 1995 following mandatory (and free) immunization introduced in 1964 after the Baath party took power. Yet wildtype 1 polio -- the most vicious form of the disease -- has been confirmed across much of Syria.

Ninety or so afflicted children may sound like a small number, but they are only a tiny manifestation of an enormous problem, since for each crippled child up to one thousand more are silently infected. Polio is so contagious that a single case is considered a public health emergency. Ninety cases could mean some 90,000 people infected, each a carrier invisibly spreading the disease to others for weeks on end.

 

Streetfighting Men, by Harriet Salem and Graham Stack, Foreign Policy

Is Ukraine's government bankrolling a secret army of Adidas-clad thugs?

But the practice of the government paying civilian muscle -- particularly sportsmen like Titushko -- to do its dirty work has a long history in the post-Soviet space. Ukraine's cult of sport originated during the cold war from fetishism of Olympic medals and was organized through local clubs. When the Soviet system collapsed, funding disappeared and hundreds of thousands of muscle-bound athletes, including boxers and wrestlers, were stranded with little to do. But they quickly found employment working as heavies in Ukraine's burgeoning shadow economy, controlled by the country's organized crime.

Despite attempts at reform following the peaceful Orange Revolution in 2004, the entrenched, symbiotic relationship between organized crime and the state has proved hard to dislodge. And since President Viktor Yanukovych took the reins of the country in 2010, there has been a rapid backward slide on corruption. Ukraine now ranks 144 on Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index -- tied with the Central African Republic, Iran, and Nigeria. "There is historically a very blurred line between the state, business, and criminal elements in Ukraine," says John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia program director at Amnesty International. "That there are reports of connections between titushki and the state is extremely concerning."

David Goldman - Pool/Getty Images; ROBIN UTRECHT/AFP/Getty Images; Brad Graverson-Pool/Getty Images; LOUAI BESHARA/AFP/Getty Images; ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images

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