No More Mr. Nice Guy

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MOSCOW, Russia: New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, meet your equal. Responding to a traffic altercation three weeks ago in which diplomats from Russia and Belarus claim to have been battered by New York police, powerful Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov recently oversaw a special operation, code-named "Foreigner," in which city traffic police zoomed in on foreign-owned cars, levying fines and confiscating license plates. Roughly 1,000 cars were stopped by city traffic cops, known by their Russian acronym GAI (gai-EE), during the two-day operation, which ended Thursday. Famed throughout Moscow for their ability to disperse fines, as well as collect bribes, with lightning speed, the GAI have reported somewhat triumphantly that Americans accounted for the majority of the 200 traffic violations detected. Most foreign drivers are easily recognizable on Moscow streets thanks to special license plates, a leftover from Soviet days, which allow cops to identify both the nationality and profession of foreign car owners. More likely than not, the traffic cops say, the roadchecks will continue. So far, the Russian media, which has widely depicted the Manhattan run-in as typical of strong-arm tactics favored by American police, has welcomed the GAI move heartily. Using language reminiscent of the Cold War era, according to TIME's Moscow correspondent Andrew Meier, even the liberal national daily Sevodnya moralized Friday that "there is an ideology of double standards especially evident with the Americans.What they consider unthinkable, not to say criminal, at home is just an innocent prank abroad." Nor does the operation likely come without a Kremlin stamp of approval. The Moscow mayor, while running the Russian capital like a personal fiefdom, also boasts a particularly chummy relationship with President Boris Yeltsin. Says Meier: "It looks like Giuliani got into more than he expected."