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DOWN THE GANGPLANK: Vyacheslav Milashevsky, commander of the Russian mini-submarine AS-28 "Priz" and his crew arrive at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Soviet propaganda always insisted on the home team's supremacy — which only bred sarcasm. In 1959, at the height of Nikita Khrushchev's spectacular U.S. visit, this joke mocked official dispatches: "Challenged by U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to a running competition, Comrade N.S. Khrushchev masterfully thwarted the dastardly Imperialist plot to shame the U.S.S.R. and won the Second Prize. The U.S. President came only one before the last."

That 44-year old joke came back bitterly as I watched Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov thanking those who, at the very last minute, saved seven Russians, trapped aboard...