Getting Tough with Russia
On Monday morning, Russians woke to news that all 26 ambassadors of NATO, and its Secretary General, were in Tbilisi conferencing with Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili, who their president has called a “criminal.” Guess that makes all the leaders of the NATO countries criminals too, huh Vlad? The NATO chief explained the purpose of the visit: “We want to show our support for Georgia after what we have seen from the Russian side.” The meeting comes in advance of a NATO summit in December which could result in Ukraine and Georgia both being given formalized NATO status. It seems the world is finally waking up and getting tough with Russia.
Writing in the Washington Post Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky states:
The situation in Georgia is the culmination of a failed post-Cold War policy toward Russia. Central to this failure has been ignoring the inherent connection between internal freedom and external aggression. As democracy was rolled back within Russia, the world abandoned an approach that had been so effective during the later stages of the Cold War, when relations with the Kremlin were linked to the expansion of freedom inside the Soviet Union. The threat to Georgia, Russia’s other democratic neighbors and America ultimately arises from a lack of democracy within Russia. Changing that should be the focus of statecraft today — if we want to ensure that the Kremlin poses no threat to peace tomorrow.
Sharansky asked Ronald Reagan whether he opposed direct confrontations of the Kremlin by dissidents on the grounds that it might alienate Russia and provoke retaliation. Reagan answerd: “Do you think I am interested in a friendship with the Soviets if they continue to keep their people in prison? You do what you believe is right.”
How quickly the West lost sight of this wisdom when the USSR collapsed, Sharansky moans. He writes:
As Putin grew bolder in reversing democratic reforms — from taking over media outlets to menacing independent journalists to nationalizing industries — there was barely a hint of protest. When he brazenly arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a billionaire and potential presidential rival, there were those in the Kremlin who warned of serious negative consequences. But such advisers quickly lost credibility when, after Western democratic leaders paid their traditional lip service to human rights and democracy, it was business as usual.
It is, quite simply, nonsense to believe that Russia can be transformed from benign to malignant simply because of peaceful verbal demonstrations of contempt for authoritarianism. Those who suggest this is the case are either cowards or collaborators. For too long now, as we have been warning ever since this blog was formed, the world has turned a blind eye to the rising of a neo-Soviet state in Russia, and the time has come now to acknowlege this mistake and correct it.
The Bush administration, at long last, seems to understand this. It is moving forward aggressively with a plan to dramatically beef up Georgia’s military establishment. It has boldly sailed warships into the Russia-held Georgian port of Poti, and now Russia is retreating. It has already approved a $1 billion aid package to rebuild damage caused by Russia in Georgia, and it was well ahead of the curve in calling for the admission of both Georgia and Ukraine to NATO, an issue on which Europe has lagged ignominiously far behind. Russia being forced into a crippling arms race, announcing a sudden 70 billion ruble increase in defense spending for next year, even as its stock market has plunged by half and foreign investment is fleeing. Russia can no more sustain such an arms race with the West than the USSR could, and will surely be destroyed by it.
Vladimir Putin has brought his country to the brink of ruin and, as we report today, there are even many Russians who are willing to say so. Let’s hope that others join them before it is too late and Russia goes the way of the USSR.