Exposing Russia’s Naked Emperor, freezing in Cold War II

Matthew Kaminski of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, writing on the paper’s website, calls upon the west to open its eyes to Potemkin Russia:

Barack Obama wants to make friends with Russia, “press the reset button” as his Veep proposed the other day. Sounds familiar. Bill Clinton bear hugged Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush peered into successor Vladimir Putin’s soul. Yet relations haven’t been this bad since Konstantin Chernenko’s days at the Kremlin.

So what? America is on a roll in Eurasia. Democracy, open markets and stability spread across the region in the Clinton and Bush eras. From Estonia to Georgia to Macedonia, free people want to join the West.

At every step of the way, Russia sought to undermine this great post-Cold War project. Grant that the Kremlin acts in defense of its perceived interests but so should the U.S., and continue down this same path.

Here Foggy Bottom’s finest chime in: Yes, but imagine a world with a friendly Russia, able to help us, say, stop Iran’s atomic bomb program. So let’s not push so hard to deploy anti-Iran missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic that Russia hates — use, if necessary, the excuse that costs and feasibility require further study. Back off on closer NATO ties for Ukraine and Georgia. Make Russia feel important and consulted. Joe Biden sketched out this sort of bargain at last weekend’s Munich security conference.

The conceit is we can win the Kremlin over by modifying our behavior. Before Mr. Obama tries, he should be aware of recent history. On missile defense, American diplomats spent as much time negotiating with Russia as with the Central Europeans, offering Moscow the chance to join in. Nothing came of it. On Kosovo independence and Iran sanctions, Russia blocked the West at the U.N.

Last spring, NATO snubbed Georgia and Ukraine in a signal of good will to Mr. Putin. The day after, Mr. Putin privately told Mr. Bush that Ukraine wasn’t “a real country” and belonged in the Russian fold. Five months later, Russia invaded Georgia and de facto annexed its breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Mr. Obama may be tempted to think Russia can be won over. After all, they would seem to need America (short for the West) far more than America needs Russia. We’re not the enemy. Russia’s real strategic challenges are in the East: China looks ravenously at the vast, mineral-rich, lightly populated Siberian steppe cut off from Moscow (to this day, you can’t drive across Russia). And to the South: The arc of Islamic extremism, starting with a possibly nuclear Iran, a competitor for Caspian energy and influence.

And as Mr. Putin discovers each day his economy sinks further, Russia failed to take advantage of sky-high oil prices to diversify away from energy. It sells nothing of value to the world aside from gas, oil and second-rate weapons. Its infrastructure is decaying and its population in decline.

A Kremlin leader with a long-term view would see these grave threats to Russia’s future and rush to build a close partnership with the West. But the interests of Mr. Putin and his small, thuggish, authoritarian clique don’t necessarily coincide with that of Russia.

The Obama magic dust doesn’t seem to work on a regime defined and legitimized by its deep dislike for America. Dmitry Medvedev, the Putin underling in the president’s office, moved the state of the nation address to the day after the American election to spin the outcome for the domestic audience. The U.S., he said into the winds of pro-American sentiment sweeping across the world in the wake of the Obama win, was “selfish . . . mistaken, egotistical and sometime simply dangerous.”

The Kremlin then welcomed Mr. Obama into the White House with the administration’s first serious foreign policy headache. Taking $2 billion from its fast-depleting reserves, Russia bullied and bribed Kyrgyzstan to close a U.S. military airfield, the main transport hub for supplies going into Afghanistan. Russia’s desire for a “sphere of influence” trumps the threat of resurgent extreme Islamism in its southern underbelly.

The thinking here is Cold War porridge. But the Russians were never offered a new narrative. Mikhail Gorbachev’s idea of a “European family” and Yeltsin’s reforms foundered. Mr. Putin went back to a familiar recipe: Russia, empire-builder and scourge of the West.

A Cold War mentality lingers in America, too. A foreign policy caste rich in Sovietologists by habit overstates Russia’s importance. The embassy in Moscow is huge; bilateral meetings inevitably become “summits,” like in the old days.

Mr. Obama’s fresh start is a good time for a reality check. The U.S. can work with Russia, seen in its proper place. To even suggest that the Russians have a special say over the fate of a Ukraine or our alliance with the Czechs lets Mr. Putin nurture the illusion of supposed greatness, and helps him hang on to power.

Ultimately it’s up to the Russians to decide to be friends. One day, someone in the Kremlin will have to confront a hard choice: Does an isolated and dysfunctional Russia want to modernize and join up with the West, look toward China, or continue its slow decline? Until then, Mr. Obama better stock up on aspirin and dampen his and our expectations about Russia.

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11 responses to “Exposing Russia’s Naked Emperor, freezing in Cold War II

  1. Obama will give in to everything that Putin’s heart desires. Afterall, it is America’s fault for all thats wrong in the world. We need to repent. Russia is the good guy! When oh when!? will we get that fact straight? “Better red than dead!”….right?
    Reader Daniel

  2. Funny, because in the days of Konstantin Chernenko, Russia was not capitalist. Moreover, Russia wasn’t supporting a U.S war as it is now in Afghanistan. Two days ago Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov confirmed that U.S military shipments will be allowed through Russia for America’s war effort.

    “Barack Obama wants to make friends with Russia, “press the reset button” as his Veep proposed the other day. Sounds familiar. Bill Clinton bear hugged Boris Yeltsin and George W. Bush peered into successor Vladimir Putin’s soul. Yet relations haven’t been this bad since Konstantin Chernenko’s days at the Kremlin.”

    Wake up and smell the coffee. Papa Bush gave Yeltsin and even bigger bear hug than Clinton as the two worked to destroy the USSR.

    As for Baby Bush, he praised Putin’s action in the Moscow Theatre Siege in 2002, and countless times called Putin “my friend”. Bush is behind Putin 100% in his rape of Chechnya which the two mutually agreed is part of the “war on terror”. So muh for “Russia the enemy”
    http://www.readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=48164

    Putin even urged Americans to re-elect Bush in 2004
    http://www.cnn.com/2004/WORLD/europe/10/18/putin.iraq/index.html

    The two were also determined to end North Korea’s nuclear program
    http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/html/20050224T210000-0500_75741_OBS_BUSH__PUTIN_SAY_NO_NUCLEAR_WEAPONS_FOR_IRAN__NORTH_KOREA.asp

    “America is on a roll in Eurasia. Democracy, open markets and stability spread across the region in the Clinton and Bush eras.”

    America is not even on a roll in America. Unemployment claims are sky-rocketing, jobs declining, money invested in two failed wars, Wall Street crash, job fairs are getting more crowded, etc. If people in those countries have any brains, adopting the American system should make them shudder. As Putin watches Russia’s economy decline, Obama must have a very mutual feeling.

    “The U.S., he said into the winds of pro-American sentiment sweeping across the world in the wake of the Obama win”

    Can you imagine the anti-American sentiment that would follow had that idiot McCain, and his brainless idiotic running mate Palin won?

  3. “Russia is supporting a US war in Afganistan”-???

    Where does this lie come from? …..Of course, it is from the Putin-KGB-Lie Factory. What a laugh! Not everyone is a blind moronic fool, inside Russia or outside it.
    Reader Daniel

  4. As usual, Tower Bolshevik needs some reading and understanding lessons. Here is what Lavrov “agreed” to:
    After agreeing this month to the transit of non-lethal U.S. supplies to Afghanistan, Lavrov raised the prospect that Russia could also agree to allow the transshipment of U.S. armaments — presumably in exchange for U.S. concessions such as backing off from support for NATO membership for Georgia and Ukraine and from the proposals to put elements of a missile-defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Read it at http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5j433uep2PZrSoonajNcqEyhScwFwD96BK3FO0
    So, we are to sacrifice all our foreign policy priorities so we can satisfy something that is beneficial to Russia as well? Our fight in Afghanistan is just as important to Russia to stabilize their southern periphery and control the flow of opium into their country. Oh, by the way, their move to oust our airbase out of Kyrgyzstan is a move designed to channel our supply routes through Russia, thus making us more dependent on them and giving them the upper hand to blackmail us further. They are doing the same thing with oil/gas pipelines. The more they control, the more of an upper hand they have in pushing the West around.
    I have always said that we are in the middle of Cold War II, but the only problem is that Russia is the only side that is actively engaged. We are taking their slaps to the face on a daily basis without any sort of response. It was bad under Bush and it will NOT get better under Obama. Time to wake up and confront the bully head-on.

  5. Russia’s Coming War with Georgia
    Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 29
    February 12, 2009 02:53 PM Age: 2 days
    By: Pavel Felgenhauer

    (…)
    While snow covers the Caucasian mountain passes until May, a renewed war with Georgia is impossible. There is hope in Moscow that the Georgian opposition may still overthrow Mikheil Saakashvili’s regime or that the Obama administration will somehow remove him. However, if by May, Saakashvili remains in power, a military push by Russia to oust him may be seriously contemplated. The constant ceasefire violations could escalate to involve Russian servicemen – constituting a public casus belli. The desire by the West to “reset” relations with Moscow, putting the Georgia issue aside, may be interpreted as a tacit recognition of Russia’s right to use military force.

  6. “Concessions did not mean peace with capitalism, but war in a new sphere.”. (Lenin, Vol. 31)

    there are other quotes…

    i bet a lot of things will be ignored, like the assasination of the head of an airforce of interest. georgia will remain an issue as long as destabilization can raize the revenue stream of russia, and they need a land bridge to transport such largess.

  7. But the interests of Mr. Putin and his small, thuggish, authoritarian clique don’t necessarily coincide with that of Russia.

    Reminiscent of the late Yasser Arafat . . .

  8. Naive fools Gorby and Yeltsin tried to get benefits from the West by cowtowing to it. The results of their policy were so disastrous that no Russian leader in a sound mind will ever pursue such policy in the foreseeable future.

  9. It’s funny (in a sad way), because the regimes of “Gorby and Yeltsin” were enemies of the West (one as the Soviet supreme leader in the Cold War – defeated in Afghanistan and by the internal ethno-economical crisis, the other one on issues such as Balkans or the Middle East – even when infamously given the “Russia’s spehere of influence” over the fromer Soviet Union by misguided and naive Americans, in addition to lots of money and other support for the “young democracy”). The smiles and hand shakes and hugs were as worthless as the Putin’s charming of the various Western leaders (from stupid Bush to literally corrupted Shroedder to disgusting Berlusconi).

    All of current problems with Russia are because the West didn’t ensure it’s democracy at the time when the Russian people were in the revolutional mood for democracy (as symbolised by the toppling of Dzierzhinsky’s Lyubyanka statue) and instead chose to persue some short-sighted realpolitik of ignoring the cleptocracy and aiding the Russia’s ruling cliques of thieves and killers.

  10. Thank God I'm not Russian

    Totally agree with Eugene on this one:

    “no Russian leader in a sound mind will ever pursue such policy in the foreseeable future”.

    Indeed, that would be hard, given that in the foreseeable future Russia will quite simply have no leader in a sound mind.

  11. TGInR, has there ever been a russian leader of sound mind?

    I’m willing to help you find one, but there is only so much I can do.

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