At the end of the summer, Russia dictator Vladimir Putin traveled to Australia to meet with Prime Minister John Howard, a close ally of U.S. President George Bush, in order to beg for a deal allowing Russia to purchase “yellowcake” uranium from Oz’s vast brick road of the stuff to fuel Russia’s nuclear reactors. Rich in oil, Russia still relies on nuclear power to light its homes and doesn’t have enough of its own uranium to fuel them. It’s a telling indicator of its vulnerability that it needs to go all the way to Australia to get it.
Both before and after this event, we attacked the idea of any nation selling any kind of nuclear material to Russia, and this sentiment was echoed by many in Australia as well. There are two main reasons not to do so. First, Russia has growing ties with the terrorist-sponsoring rogue nation of Iran, including extensive efforts to help Iran develop and protect its own nuclear power capability, and Iran faces massive U.N. sanctions because of this. No thinking person doubts Iran’s wish to transform this capability into nuclear weapons as well, for the purpose of further terrorizing the Western democracies. Russia has flouted international sanctions agreed on by virtually the whole world, siding with Iran. Second, Russia is obliterating every last vestige of democracy inside the country, transforming itself rapidly into a neo-Soviet state at cold war with the West. Supplying Russia with aid and comfort under these conditions, we opined, was insane.
But Mr. Howard foolishly went ahead with the deal anyway, and Mr. Bush did nothing to stand in the way. And now, just look at the results:
Over the weekend, Mr. Howard and his conservative party stood for reelection and got their heads handed to them on a pike. Not only did they lose their majority in parliament to the labor party, but Howard himself was ejected from his own seat (one he had held for more than three decades), out of the parliament entirely, a virtually unprecedented event in Australian history. Australia has a marvelous compulsory voting system, where police hand out tickets imposing fines to those who fail to show up at the polls and cast their ballots, resulting in 94% turnout and clear national mandates. The people of Oz have spoken, and they have repudiated the odious Mr. Howard — just as Mr. Bush currently has the lowest public approval level of any president since such data began to be recorded. Perhaps this will be sufficient jolt to awaken the sleeping American president, forcing him to realize how utterly wrongheaded his Russia policy has been throughout his administration.
There’s still time, Mr. Bush, to set things right if you apply yourself, and you are on the right track by consistently confronting and frustrating Dictator Putin on missile defense in Europe. But there is much, much more you should be doing to stand up against the malignant little troll who prowls the Kremlin, a crude thug and a bully who wishes America only the worst. Maybe you should start by becoming a reader of this blog.
One who doubts whether failure and Russia exist in symbiosis need only cast a random eye across our virtual pages to be convinced that it is so. From exploding buses to a brutal Kiplinger warning to humiliating losses on the soccer pitch to toxic healthcare to horrific inflation to being boiled in your own apartment to rampant Internet corruption to gasoline shortages to barbaric vices to the inability to do a simple thing like deliver a baby, it’s all there in black and white (well, mostly black) — and that’s just the last two weeks! Others document Putin’s failure as well, for instance Streetwise Professor’s three recent posts on Russia’s military impotence.
Failure is what inevitably comes of allying yourself with Russia, so hopefully the Labor Party’s first order of business will be to review Howard’s crazy deal with the Russians and repudiate it. Australia should not be selling nuclear fuel to Russia until there are substantial changes in both Russia’s foreign policy and its domestic political structure — nor should any other responsible nation be doing so. The new prime minister will be former diplomat Kevin Rudd, a serious environmentalist who has promised to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and pledged to set tough new targets for carbon emissions and renewable energy. No such person can possibly support the status quo ante in Russia, one of the world’s most toxic states in every imaginable aspect.
Hopefully, too, the new U.S. administration that replaces Mr. Bush next year will reverse his ghastly Russia policy, should that still be necessary. John McCain, who is seeking the Republican nomination, has shown remarkable leadership on Russia, calling for the ejection of the Putin dictatorship from the G-8 group — that would be a great first step. If McCain doesn’t win the nomination and the Republicans hold the presidency — in fact, even if they don’t — McCain should be America’s next ambassador to Russia.
And the evidence of Russia’s virulent, malignant crackdown on civil rights and liberties is even more apparent than that of is its failure, which is omnipresent. Every single day we report multiple stories showing how the Kremlin is crushing the last vestiges of civil society in Russia, returning the nation to a full-blown neo-Soviet dictatorship (indeed, it’s been compellingly suggested that the better word would be paleo-Soviet, to better reflect the truly barbaric character of what is happening). Today alone we report on how journalists under attack while trying to report on the growing unrest in Ingushetia, and on the horrifying arrest of Russia’s leading opposition figure, Garry Kasparov, for daring to march peacefully through the streets of Moscow in protest against the Kremlin’s draconian crackdown on electoral freedom. The greatest and most disgusting outrage of them all (you can hardly blame a wild bear for killing and eating a hiker who makes himself vulnerable) is the fact that the people of Russia sit idly by watching it all happen, just as they did in the time of Stalin — and many craven cowards in the West do the same.
Mr. Howard will be numbered among them, and he’s got his just desserts in spades. Wake up, Mr. Bush — or the bell will toll for thee as well. Take a lead from the leaders of Germany and France, who have boldly confronted Dictator Putin across a wide range of issues. Step to the forefront and provide the American leadership that the world must have in order to deal effectively with the neo-Soviet threat. As the essay we report today from the mighty Financial Times shows, there are many around the world who clearly see and understand the nature of the peril we now see rising in Russia.
It’s time the American president did, too.
The consequences of inaction should have been well learned by now. Ukraine, for instance, has just commemorated the anniversary of the 1932-33 Holodomor genocide, in which the dictator Josef Stalin sought to exterminate the vast majority of Ukraine’s population in order to seize its “bread basket” unequivocally for Russia (Stalin also sought to purge Chechnya of its non-”Russian” population). Not only did we fail to grasp the significance of Holodomor while it was happening, leading to the tortuous demise of millions of Ukrainians, but some of us helped Stalin along. New York Times Russia correspondent James Duranty, for example, covered up the facts — and got Pulitzer Prize for it. Ivan Lozovy, a Ukrainian-based political analyst, told Radio Free Europe that the Pulitzer should now be revoked: “It would be historical justice. What interests me in this case is to make sure that Duranty is never forgotten, even if the prize is never revoked. Duranty is symbolic of how the West ignored this issue and Ukraine itself for many years, including after independence, until the Orange Revolution. This is a much wider and more important issue than just a prize given away 75 years ago.” Lozovy couldn’t be more on point. We’d better learn history accurately before we hope to make effective policy in the present.
An article over the weekend in the Washington Post touted Dictator Putin’s “popularity,” and the impression Russians have that he is improving their lives, as the Western media has often done in recent years. The article stated: “Yet while Putin — who has never debated a rival during two presidential election cycles — benefits from the country’s closed political process and fawning institutions, his ratings cannot be dismissed as simply the fruit of propaganda, according to Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center.” A commenter offered the obvious refutation: “If his support is so rock solid, why is his government so vigilant in hounding opponents who, according to these same polls, enjoy single digit followings in the Russian population. His jingoistic speech this week to adoring the Putin Youth testifies to desperation, not confidence.” Stalin also could lay claim to widespread “popularity” in Russia, but this did not mean he presided over a strong or healthy state. Instead, despite being so “popular,” it meant Stalin felt the need to create the Gulag archipelago and murder more Russians than Hitler’s armies. The Soviet Union did not even survive 40 years after his demise.
How can the West expect the sick, impoverished, ignorant masses of Russia to stand up to their new maniacal leader if the powerful West, which hopelessly out-monies, out-guns and out-mans neo-Soviet Russia, will not do so? How can we expect them to understand our outrage, and act on it, if we do not express it? How can we expect Putin to stop if we do not tell him to? As long as the people of Russia continue to express support for Putin, they are as accountable for his barbaric crimes as they were for those of Stalin. It is only a sign of respect if we hold them to account for their behavior as adults rather than patronizing them as children.
The arrest of Garry Kasparov, for doing nothing more than seeking to lead a peaceful protest march through the streets of his nation’s capital, is a clarion warning call to the West, just as was the massacre of Anna Politkovskaya and the jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the murder of Alexander Litvinenko (one year ago last week). The last time Kasparov was arrested for such activities, he was released in a few hours. The West took little action to protect him, so now the Kremlin is testing again. He’s been sentenced to five days this time. Can they get away with it? If so, the next time it may be a few years in Siberia just before the presidential elections, maybe in a cell right next to Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
By acting decisively and immediately to oppose the rise neo-Soviet Union just as Ronald Reagan opposed its predecessor, President Bush will be protecting not only American interests but those of the Russian people as well — lest Russia go the way of the USSR. It’s clear the people of Russia will not resolve the matter on their own.
Mr. Bush must act now.