Waiting for Godobama
“Most Russians don’t care whether they are ruled by fascists or communists or even Martians as long as they can buy six kinds of sausage in the store and lots of cheap vodka.”
- – Alexander Lebed (General, Governor, Presidential Candidate)The Financial Times, September 6, 1994
It was announced last week that U.S. President Barack Obama will attend a summit with “president” Dima Medvedev in Moscow on July 6th. Hopefully Obama will be smart enough to stay away from the Moscow Metro, where his lynching would be almost assured, and will not be idiotic enough to think he’s talking to the actual ruler of Russia. Vladimir Ryzhkov, who knows the corridors of Kremlin power far better than Obama, says the American naif is dealing with a counterpart who is just “pretending to lead.”
But the more important question is whether Obama will finally have the courage and intelligence to speak up for American values, something so many heroic people in Russia desperately want him to do.
Maybe Obama will finally take the opportunity to say a word or two about the dozens of race murders that have taken place in Russia since he became president. Perhaps he’ll find time to address, however briefly, the spree of bombings taking place in Sochi and threatening American athletes who might be foolish enough to attend the 2014 Olympics there. Conceivably, he’ll let the words “Stanislav Markelov” or “Mikhail Khodorkovsky” or “Anna Politkovskaya” pass his lips, or meet with some of the heroic Russians who are still risking their lives to defend American values in Russia. He might even let “president” Medvedev know something awful will happen if he dares to poke one hobnailed toe back into Georgia — or Ukraine for that matter.
But we won’t hold our breath waiting for Godobama.
We’re not sure whether we’ve seen craven cowardice or simply barbaric ignorance from Mr. Obama so far on Russia, and frankly we couldn’t care less. What we know is that we’ve heard deafening silence, not one single word about any of the pressing national security and democracy issues that explode in Russia on a weekly basis. The best he could do so far was to “bring up” the subject of Lev Ponomarev when he met with Medvedev in London. By mentioning only Ponomarev, Obama sent the message to the Kremlin that its persecution of many more important figures is just fine. By failing to announce what Obama told Medvedev and what answer he got (for all we know Medvedev responded the way Putin often did, by asking ”Who’s Ponomarev?”), the U.S. has removed all pressure on Medvedev even to investigate the attack on Ponomarev fully. Based on reports of what transpired, we believe the Kremlin’s view of Obama will be even worse for human rights in Russia than if Obama had remained totally silent. The most Obama’s mention might have accomplished is to save Ponomarev from being assassinated, while at the same time indicating the Kremlin has the green light to liquidate lots of others.
Obama thinks Austrians speak Austrian, so maybe he thinks Russians speak Chinese. He doesn’t have the slightest clue about multinational corporate tax policy, so expecting him to know much about the riddle-wrapped-a-mystery country is probably expecting too much. But if he’s really that clueless, then he needs to step aside and let someone make Russia policy who is better informed.
What we’re sure of is that this is Barack Obama’s very last chance on this blog. If he goes to Russia and remains silent or merely pays lip service to secondary issues as he did in London, we’ll consider him as much the enemy of democracy and prosperity in Russia as Vladimir Putin, and we’ll start saying loudly and often. At least you expect the faciliation of dictatorship from a proud KGB spy; from the first black American president, you expect a lot better. We’d love to support the American president, but he has to meet us half way.
The choice is yours, Mr. Obama.