Putin, Unhinged

An editorial in the Boston Globe, headlined “Putin’s Gang Loses its Grip on Reality” (ouch! what a double zinger!) shows that what Russia considered an act of strenth has actually shown the world truly pathetic Russian weakness.

Judging by what they’re saying about Georgia, Russia’s leadership is becoming increasingly disconnected from reality.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his defense analysts had concluded that “someone in the United States created this conflict on purpose to stir up the situation for one of the candidates” for the presidency. He did not say which one. And now, military spokesman Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn says Russian forces have proof of U.S. involvement – a passport, found in a Georgia outpost, of one Michael Lee White, an English teacher in China who says he was in Texas when Russia invaded Georgia last month.

White said he accidentally left his passport on a Moscow-New York plane three years ago. The Wall Street Journal says White’s account stood up at every point it could check.

It’s absurd. Covert operatives never carry passports in the field; when they do carry passports, they support whatever identity the operative has assumed. Far more likely is that Russian authorities simply added White’s old passport to the stash they keep for their own dirty tricks.

Don’t the Russians have an embassy in Washington that reports on American opinion? Any candidate suspected of ginning up a war for the sake of popularity would lose votes by the ton and face questions about his sanity.

Putin has complained about the presence of what he said were too many Western warships in the Black Sea: one Polish, one Spanish, one German and two from the United States, which carried aid to Georgia’s Black Sea ports.

That appears to be under the limits of the 1936 Montreux Convention governing the use of the Black Sea by countries that do not border it. We have not heard Putin mention Montreux. (Turkey refused to let U.S. hospital ships enter the Black Sea on the grounds that they exceeded the Montreux tonnage limits. The United States never signed the convention but has promised to abide by it.)

This may not be Putin’s best argument. Russia keeps 40 warships in the Ukrainian Black Sea port of Sevastopol, and in the past has violated Montreux by sending aircraft carriers from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. But it takes a realist to recognize effective arguments.

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