Longform’s Picks of the Week

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.


Watching the Eclipse, David Remnick, the New Yorker.

Ambassador Michael McFaul was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia—and when it began to fade.

“In 1991, McFaul was in St. Petersburg, trying to organize a seminar on local government. He found himself doing business with a man from the mayor’s office named Igor Sechin. He and Sechin took an immediate liking to each other. It turned out that, like McFaul, Sechin was interested in Mozambique. They both spoke Portuguese. Sechin never actually said that his familiarity with matters Mozambican came from having been a young Soviet intelligence operative in Maputo, or that he still was a K.G.B. officer, but McFaul knew the score. What he discovered, as they talked, was that Sechin assumed that McFaul, too, was an intelligence agent.

It was an encounter with a certain historical freight: a generation later, when McFaul became Obama’s Ambassador to Russia, Sechin became the president of Rosneft, Russia’s state-owned, hugely profitable energy conglomerate. He would also be the most important counsellor to the same man he was working for way back in 1991: a career intelligence officer and deputy mayor named Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.”


Slaves of Happiness Island, Molly Crabapple, Vice.

Abu Dhabi and the Dark Side of High Art

“I first set foot on Saadiyat on a day so hot it nearly made me faint. Journalists are not allowed to visit without government minders, so I sneaked in. Saadiyat’s terrain looked like the moon. Bulldozers churned up pearl-colored dust. The dust dried my eyes. It came out in my snot. In company-branded jumpsuits, men toiled through their 12-hour shifts, welding and lugging rebar beneath the merciless sun.

brahim served as my translator. He is in his early 20s. With his carefully styled black hair, he resembles a South Asian James Dean. Ibrahim asked me to withhold details about his life for fear of deportation, or worse. “If I speak to the media, they will take me from my room and put me somewhere no one will find me,” he said. Ibrahim has the sort of intelligence that crackles around him in sly, sarcastic sparks. He is smart in a way so obvious that he tries to hide it from his bosses by speaking in broken English. He knows five languages, loves poetry, and dreams of getting a master’s degree.”


Vladimir Putin’s Chess-Master Nemesis, Steven Lee Myers, the New York Times.

Garry Kasparov, the Man Who Would Be King of Russia

“It was a Wednesday, and he sensed a spectral presence on the balcony of his apartment in Moscow (almost all regional leaders in Russia keep a home in the capital). When he went to investigate, aliens in yellow bodysuits transported him to an enormous spaceship and then to another planet. They did not talk much, but he emphasized that he needed to get back soon, because he had a flight to Kalmykia the next day. They assured him not to worry; there was plenty of time. In Ilyumzhinov’s various retellings, his tale remains remarkably consistent, and he has stood by it, despite skeptical and amused questioning from journalists. Over the years, he has expounded on his views of extraterrestrial life, comparing them to the belief in Jesus Christ or Buddha. He also has opined that chess itself comes from a higher plane, either God or outer space: It certainly is not of this world.

Like Kasparov, Ilyumzhinov was a chess prodigy, becoming Kalmykia’s champion when he was 14, but he never reached similar heights in international competition. After high school, he worked in a factory until he was conscripted by the Red Army. Following his time in the military, he returned to a factory job before gaining acceptance to the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations, the university that prepped the Soviet Union’s diplomats and provided him with business-world contacts. When the country fell apart, Ilyumzhinov ended up the owner of a network of businesses and a very rich man, though as is the case with many of Russia’s oligarchs, the exact source and size of his wealth is opaque. Ilyumzhinov was elected Kalmykia’s president in the heady years of Russia’s new democracy, running on the argument that, as a rich man, he would not succumb to corruption. In fact, as many regional leaders in Russia in the 1990s did, he treated his homeland as his personal fief, neutering the local legislature and controlling the media. In 1998, one of his aides was convicted in the murder of an opposition journalist and political activist, Larisa Yudina. Earlier this year Sergei Mitrokhin, the chairman of the Yabloko Party, the biggest liberal party in the 1990s, cited the murder as a reason to oppose Ilyumzhinov’s re-election to FIDE, describing his Kalmykia presidency as “a disgusting merger of authoritarian rule, corruption and crime.””


How Libya Blew Billions and Its Best Chance at Democracy , David Samuels, Bloomberg Businessweek.

It’s been a long road of mismangement and war for Libya since Qaddafi’s death.

“In the weeks that followed Qaddafi’s death, Farkash was seized by a vision of how rebuilding the country might also be a pathway to personal riches. The more he studied Libya, the more convinced he became that it was a gold mine—a strip of coastal desert in North Africa, next to Egypt, with a relatively well-educated population of 6 million in need of seemingly every kind of consumer product and service, for which the country would easily be able to pay by continuing to pump its usual 1.3 million to 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. The Central Bank of Libya, according to Reuters, had more than $100 billion in foreign reserves, mostly money collected from oil sales under Qaddafi. The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the overseas investment arm of the Qaddafi government, had about $70 billion invested with blue-chip Western companies such as Société Générale (GLE:FP) and Goldman Sachs (GS), and an additional $50 billion or more invested throughout Africa. And in Libya, every asset you could imagine was dirt-cheap. “It was a clean page,” he remembers. “You could start from scratch.”

Farkash returned to Libya that very month, along with two friends from London. Together, they started a Libyan investment bank with offices in Tripoli and Benghazi, with the aim of encouraging direct foreign investment in Libya. “You could smell that there were deals everywhere. Attractive deals,” he recalls. “Deals about to be done, and deals waiting to be done.” Land was inexpensive and increasing by the day in value, he says. You could fill your gas tank for $5.”


On Israel’s Defeat in Gaza, David Rothkopf, Foreign Policy.

Hamas will dig out from under the rubble and the world will remember the image of four boys killed on a beach.

“Yet, whenever this most recent conflict is seen to be over, it will not be remembered for the security logic behind it or the speeches justifying it. Nor will it be remembered for the tactical gains that Israel may have achieved. No, the lasting image this war will leave the world is of four boys on a beach, playing soccer and then running for their lives, hurtled from a carefree moment of childhood to oblivion in the blink of an eye.

There is no Iron Dome that can protect Israel from images like that. There is no Iron Dome that can undo the images of suffering and destruction burned into our memories or justify away the damage to Israel’s legitimacy that comes from such wanton slaughter. Most importantly, the Iron Dome protects Israel only from the damage others try to inflict upon it; it cannot save the country from the damage it does to itself.”