Longform’s Picks of the Week

The best stories from around the world.


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 Russia Left Behind, by Ellen Barry, the New York Times

A journey through a heartland on the slow road to ruin.

As the state’s hand recedes from the hinterlands, people are struggling with choices that belong to past centuries: to heat their homes with a wood stove, which must be fed by hand every three hours, or burn diesel fuel, which costs half a month’s salary? When the road has so deteriorated that ambulances cannot reach their home, is it safe to stay? When their home can’t be sold, can they leave?

Clad in rubber slippers, his forearms sprinkled with tattoos, Mr. Naperkovsky is the kind of plain-spoken man’s man whom Russians would call a “muzhik.” He had something he wanted to pass on to Mr. Putin, who has led Russia during 13 years of political stability and economic expansion.

“The people on the top do not know what is happening down here,” he said. “They have their own world. They eat differently, they sleep on different sheets, they drive different cars. They don’t know what is going on here. If I needed one word to describe it, I would say it is a swamp, a stagnant swamp. As it was, so it is. Nothing is changing.”


Nights Out in a New Town, by Srinath Perur, Open

Travelling with the Indian sex tourist to Tashkent in search of ‘full enjoyment’

Jabir is defensive when I ask him how Uzbekistan became a destination for sex tourists. He largely holds the tourists responsible. He says he’s interested in showing people around his country, but they only care for one thing. According to him there aren’t even that many women involved in sex work. He says, ‘There are maybe around a hundred girls in Tashkent. Everyone comes here, fucks the same girls and goes back.’ That sounds like a considerable understatement. There must be that number of sex workers from the former USSR in Delhi or Mumbai alone. The textbook explanation holds that the dissolution of the USSR created economic uncertainty in which many young women found it hard to support themselves, and ended up in different parts of the world as sex workers.

Why come all the way to Uzbekistan when it’s easily possible to find women from the region in India? There are reasons of pragmatism, of course-there’s no one who might recognize you here, and the country’s relatively cheap. Beyond that, these four or five days are an opportunity to let oneself go. Here there are no responsibilities of family or work. The proscriptions of home are absent, so you can drink and smoke as much as you want. Everyone’s a young man once again, giggling at adolescent jokes. There’s the sex of course, but here it goes beyond simply servicing the libido. There is a jubilant revelling in sex and an air of constant bawdiness that can only come from the working out of things long pent-up. Here you can unburden yourself completely. You can enjoy.

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images

The State of Assange, by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York Magazine

He’s a cartoon. A megalomaniac. An irresistible Hollywood subject. And a crucial historical figure.

All of this is Assange’s own doing. And yet it is strange how completely these dramas have obscured the power of his insights and how fully we now seem to be living in Julian Assange’s world. His real topic never was war or human rights. It was always surveillance and the way that technology unbalanced the relationship between the individual and the state. Information now moves through electronic circuits, which means it can all be collected, stored, analyzed. The insight that Assange husbanded (and Snowden’s evidence confirmed) is that the sheer seduction of this trove-the possibility of secretly knowing everything about other people-would lead governments and companies to abandon their own laws and ethics. This is the paranoid worldview of a hacker, assembled from a lifetime of chasing information. But Assange proved that it was accurate, and the consequence of his discovery has been a strange political moment, when to see the world through the lens of conspiracies has not only made you paranoid. It’s also made you aware.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Portrait of an Afghan Assassin, by Matthieu Aikins, Mother Jones

No one is sure what made a 17-year-old poet gun down four Marines. But somewhere in his story is the key to whether we’ll ever leave Afghanistan.

But the result has been to leave the Afghan strategy half-finished: A vast and unsustainably expensive force has been mobilized and equipped, but it remains poorly disciplined and widely corrupt, and overlaps uneasily with a constellation of even worse-trained militia forces. With the majority of foreign forces due to depart Afghanistan in a little more than a year, it’s anyone’s guess whether the Afghan forces can stand on their own. If they can’t, and the security vacuum causes Afghanistan to revert to chaos, insider attacks will have been partly to blame.

“The question you gotta ask is, is there any more juice left to squeeze from the orange?” Martin said. “Is this as good as it’s going to get?”


Sherman’s March, by Yochi Dreazen, Foreign Policy

Meet the social worker turned nuclear negotiator who’s trying to keep Iran from getting the bomb.

All the same, Sherman, who Samore describes as having an “iron fist in a velvet glove,” will have to get as much from the talks as she can. Her work will be closely followed in the capitals of key allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia, which fear that the Obama administration is prepared to accept a deal that would leave Iran with the ability to continue enriching uranium. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recent described Rouhani as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and reiterated his promise that Israel would act militarily, alone if necessary, to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Qom facility would likely be at the top of any Israeli target list. Robert Einhorn, a former State Department official who worked with Sherman during the on-again, off-again negotiations with North Korea in the 1990s, said she is a skilled negotiator with a deep understanding of the complex politics surrounding the nuclear talks, particularly among skeptics from both parties on Capitol Hill. “She knows that world,” he said.


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