Putin is Worse than Any Foreign Foe
If Bob Dylan, of all people, can agree to use his music to hawk Pepsi Cola, surely all things are possible, and we live in hope. But we continue to be amazed and disappointed at the failure of the Obama administration to reverse course on Russia. Given the harsh criticism leveled at former U.S. President George Bush by Obama’s supporters, one would think it would be a no-brainer for them to reject Bush’s declaration that Putin was “trusthworthy” after having “looked into his eyes and glimpsed his soul” and start demanding that Putin respect human rights. And yet, Obama remains silent. In doing so, he betrays not only the interests of his own people but also those of the people of Russia, because their government, largely unopposed by Washington, is driving their economy to ruin.
Last week the Moscow Times reported:
Russian banks and companies earned as much as $25 billion using state bailout funds to bet against the ruble during its decline, Maxim Raskosnov, a fixed-income analyst with Renaissance Capital, said Friday. The government in effect gave banks an indirect way to recapitalize as the devaluation lessened the impact of weakening asset quality, Raskosnov told reporters.
The Russian stock market is back in freefall. The dollar-denominated RTS index had lost 100 points, over 16% of its value, between Monday morning and the close of trading on Wednesday last week. The Kremlin was forced to admit that Russian GDP will contract by more than 2% this year, a major recession, but nothing compared to the 20% contraction that Standard & Poors has just predicted. On Tuesday alone, Sberbank was down 14% and Surgutneftgaz, the countries fourth-largest oil producer, was down 15% (#1 Rosneft and #2 LukOil were both down 10%). Mighty Gazprom was down 17% on the week. On Wednesday, Sberbank shed another 7%, down a shocking 21% in just two days, and MICEX ruble denominated exchange had to shut down for an hour to staunch losses. The bank is owned and operated by the Kremlin itself and is Russia’s largest financial institution. The ruble shed 2% of its value on Wednesday, pressing close to the outer limit of its trading ban and forcing the Kremlin to expend billions of dollars in currency reserves to hold it in check. The IHT reported: “The Central Bank set the official exchange rate for Thursday as 36.4 rubles against the dollar which is the lowest point for the ruble since January 1998 when Russia re-denominated its currency.”
In other words, Putin’s misguided policies are rapidly destroying the country. Untold billions of dollars have been squandered to create artificial, transient “value” in the Russian currency and stock market. Billions more have been frittered away on this ridiculous effort to save Russia’s failing banks. And Russia continues on a frenzied course of military buildup and cold-war provocation of the United States.
None of this can surprise any seasoned Russia watcher. Indeed, even one applying a crude stereotype to Russia would expect exactly this result from a clan of proud KGB spies being placed in charge of the national economy. Naturally they’ll behave as they spent their entire lives being taught to do.
But Russia cannot afford this behavior. It teeters on the brink of absolute destruction, and the people of Russia, if they care about their children, must stand and force the regime awayh from the abyss.
But they need help from Washington DC. They need a U.S. president who will stand up for basic human rights and common sense economic polices, who will look in Vladimir Putin’s eyes and see what is written there, as John McCain said, thre simple letters: “K-G-B.”