Apart from the small matter of the football, that a Spanish prosecutor has told an American diplomat that Russia is a "mafia state" has made headlines today. With and without reason. Not a single Russian newspaper, not even those that are chummy with the Kremlin, has failed to use such terminology over the past two decades. Before the fall of the USSR few Russians knew what the mafia was. Now the Sicilian name has entered all the Cyrillic lexicons – and always the core meaning is entanglement of politicians and criminals to cream off the country's assets by whatever means are necessary.
In the old Soviet Union, public theft was possible through a corrupt political system without need for out-and-out hoodlums. Private dachas were constructed at public expense. Factory profits were siphoned off into the bank accounts of the nomenklatura. Elderly party bigwigs took their pick of foreign merchandise in special shops banned to ordinary citizens.