From Tymoshenko in Kiev to Khodorkovsky in Chita, a new iron curtain has descended across the continent.
Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner finally confronted President Barack Obama regarding his failed “reset” policy in Russia. He pointed out that despite Obama’s plans and promises, Russia is standing with Iran, not us, in the confrontation over revelations about Iran’s nuclear program. The news came even as the world learned that a Russian scientist had been helping Iran to develop those lethal nukes, and that Russia intended to bestow even more nuclear technology on Ahmadinejad and his fanatical regime.
Though Obama doesn’t seem to notice, Russia’s Iran policy is a declaration of a new cold war, and nobody should be surprised. Two books from seasoned Russia correspondents warned us long ago that this would happen. It’s a cold war that, with nukes in the hands of Ahmadinejad, could get pretty hot, pretty fast.
It remains to be seen whether Boehner and his colleagues in the Senate, who have begun to aggressively raise issues of human rights and democracy, will translate this tough talk into policy action. The first, best thing Boehner and his colleagues can do would be to block the nomination of Michael McFaul as the next ambassador to Russia.
McFaul, as much as anyone, is responsible for the failed conception and execution of the now-infamous Obama “reset” policy, and to reward him with a cushy job in Moscow would be a travesty. McFaul’s dishonesty and duplicity when testifying before Congress in support of his confirmation should make even Obama’s strongest supporters blanch.
Another option would be to block more of the criminals who now populate the Kremlin from stepping through the golden door, as a bipartisan pair of senators have demanded. Or Congress could insist that the administration begin providing real, tangible support to opposition leaders on the ground in Russia: leaders like Boris Nemtsov, Vladimir Ryzhkov, Oleg Kozlovsky, and Roman Dobrokhotov.
But whether they’ll actually do anything at all remains anybody’s guess.
If you want to know how bad things are behind the new iron curtain that Obama has mightily helped to raise, just listen to Yevgenia Carr, the daughter of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Julia Tymoshenko, begging for her mother’s life. Tymosheko has been railroaded into prison by the new pro-Russia ruler of Ukraine, a proud former KGB spy just like Vladimir Putin. Listening to her, one must question Obama’s patriotism — if not his sanity — in helping legitimize the Putin dictatorship.
But there are many other voices to be heeded.
The closest students of Russia from the foreign perspective, the editors of the Moscow Times newspaper, have issued a stinging condemnation of Obama’s attempt to cuddle up to Putin’s mafia state. They quote Khodorkovsky, jailed in Siberia’s Chita and writing from the neo-Soviet gulag because he dared to challenge Putin for the presidency:
By ignoring its basic values to make friends with dictators, America risks losing its moral capital.
For more of the horror, read chapter and verse about the mafia state in the eponymous new book by long-serving Russia correspondent Luke Harding. The book’s cover refers to “the brutal new Russia” that Harding saw up close and personal when it banned him from the country — separating him from his wife and child after he dared to report the truth about the Putin crackdown.
Or listen to Nemtsov, another former prime minister facing persecution. Nemtsov used to work directly under Boris Yeltsin. Now his anti-Putin writings are censored and confiscated, he is arrested whenever he seeks to take part in a public demonstration, and he is not allowed to place his name on the ballot for president.
But Obama isn’t interested in reading or listening to anything except poll numbers. Those are looking bleak, so Obama is desperate for any life preserver he can latch onto, and he’s decided to market the “reset” by claiming Russian affection for him shows success. And he doesn’t care how many lies he has to tell, or have told by McFaul on his behalf, to get the job done.
So Putin gets bolder and bolder. A year ago, leading Russian journalist Oleg Kashin was brutally assaulted because of his Kremlin-critical reporting, and lay in a coma. All across Russia, fellow journalists began speculating that Vasily Yakemenko, the leader of Nashi, Russia’s version of the Hitlerjugend, probably gave the order for the attack. Putin’s response? He invited Yakemenko to the Kremlin for a photo op.
Let’s be clear: Russian national interests are served by roiling the waters of the Persian Gulf. Doing so drives up the price of oil and causes billions to flow into the Kremlin’s coffers. What’s more, Russia is ruled by a clan of proud KGB spies who have been taught to hate America from birth. At one time or another, Putin has referred to the U.S. with every epithet in the dictionary. If there is any reset in Russia, it is to redouble efforts to bring the U.S. down.
So Obama is a dream come true for Putin: an American leader who will turn a blind eye to all that in the hopes of misleading American votes just as Putin does in Russia, with dishonest propaganda, smoke, and mirrors.