EDITORIAL: The Russian Carcinogen, Spreading

EDITORIAL

THE Russian Carcinogen, Spreading

Two weeks ago Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez visited Russia and held a joint news conference with “president” Dmitri Medvedev, a transcript of which the Kremlin proudly posted on its website. The pair discussed a deal in which Venezulea would spend billions of dollars buying Russian weapons, and Chavez then promptly took delivery on a shipment of Russian-made warplanes. Soon after that he began issuing statements about using them to sink “gringo” ships from the United States. In Moscow, Chavez had stated that “if Russian military forces ever visited Venezuelan territory, they would be greeted ‘by flying colors, drum beats and songs, as this means the arrival of our allies with whom we share the same view on the world.'”

It’s necessary, by the way, to use parenthesis when referring to Medvedev’s title, since surveys show the Russian people overwhelmingly believe that the real power in the country still lies with ex-president Vladimir Putin, who’s now the “prime minister.” Putin recently made some critical comments about the country’s leading steel maker and the entire Russian stock market promptly went into freefall, losing nearly 20% of its value in a couple of weeks. Medvedev was left scrambling to somehow reassure the markets that it wasn’t a sign of the apocalypse.

The shipment of Russian weapons, and the message that Russia may act to protect Venezuela’s rogue regime just as it is doing in Iran, was timely. No sooner was Chavez back home in South America than he set about repudiating a constitutional referendum which took place last December in which the nation’s voters rejected his request for more governing authority. Just as has been the case in Russia for years, Chavez will now have the power to appoint regional leaders by personal decree and endow them with independent budgets, effectively wiping out the concept of federalism. He’s also asserted the right to seize private property, create his own armed militias, and do most of the other things that the referendum specifically prohibited. Simultaneously, he accelerated his breakneck nationalization of private companies, moving this time against a major Spanish-owned bank. Previously Chavez had moved against steel, dairy, oil, telephone and electricity firms.

And right on the heels of those moves, Venzuela’s Supreme Court ruled that a blacklist on opposition candidates, barring them from taking places on the polls while the Chavez regime “investigated” their backgrounds, was legal. Most importantly the decree blocks Leopoldo Lopez, a Caracas-area mayor and a rising national star, from seeking further office.

Two things are clear. First, Venezuela would not dare to take these provocative actions without the belief that Russia would intervene on its behalf in the event of U.S. retaliation. Based on the way Chavez was treated in Moscow and the volume of weapons sales being made by Russia to Venezuela, there is no reason for him to think otherwise. Second, Russia is using Venezuela against the U.S. in exactly the same manner that the USSR used Cuba. By taking these actions, Russia is setting a precedent for U.S. intervention in places like Ukraine and Georgia, and it is provoking a new cold war by doing so. In both respects, Russia’s actions are self-destructive. Russia is not positioned economically, much less militarily, to wage a new cold war with the U.S. so soon after the USSR was destroyed by the first one. Likewise, Russian interests are not served by giving the U.S. precedents and excuses to ratchet up its involvement in the former USSR. Russia’s actions only make sense if Russia believes that upon seeing its support for Venezuela the U.S. will instantly beg for mercy and surrender. Such a notion is idiotic in the extreme and belies a fundamental misunderstanding of American power and resolve.

The extent to which Hugo Chavez is seeking to emulate Vladimir Putin’s style of government is eerie in the extreme, very similar to the manner in which Fidel Castro copied the politburo in Soviet times. The poison of Russia’s anti-democratic regime is now beginning to spread across the globe, just as the poison of Communism did not so long ago. In the past, the U.S. allowed this situation to go unattended until, lo an behold, it discovered Soviet ICBMs being installed virtually on its own shores.

Will we make this same mistake all over again?

And now, as if to confirm the worst-case scenario, Russia has plunged into Georgia in a naked act of imperialist aggression.  It’s heartening to see that the sitting U.S. president and both of the candidates seeking to replace him have condemned Russia’s actions in in the strongest terms, and horrifying to see that Russia cares not whether it fatally poisons its relationship with the world’s only superpower.  Russia, its seems, is hell-bent on restoring the USSR no matter what the cost.

2 responses to “EDITORIAL: The Russian Carcinogen, Spreading

  1. Superb. But down the line there WILL be a cost… to Russia. Putya, Dima and their siloviki are strong on application of muscle, but weak on timeline projections of politico-economic consequences. Gazprom profits go into private pockets or prestige Potemkin projects, not into infrastructure upgrades or improvement of social services, so at base the state they (mis)govern is like so many prior authoritarian models: topheavy, with a shaky base.

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