Imagine that (a) the Boeing aircraft company launched a major initiative doing business with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, (b) Boeing was run by Pat Buchanan, who was one of the world’s 100 wealthiest individuals, and (c) Buchanan owned the New York Times.
Now imagine the Times’ pages suddenly start overflowing with praise for Putin. Would you find that suspicious and worrying?
This scenario is not hypothetical: it’s happening in France.
Their Dassault Systems struck a major deal with Russian helicopter manufacturer Kamov, operates a significant and expanding business office in Russia, and owns the French “paper of record” Le Figaro, number two in circulation nationwide. The French government is in the process of attempting to sell Russia a $750 million warship to shore up Russia’s rusty, creaking pseudo-navy, causing many of Russia’s neighbors to lose much sleep. French President Nicolas Sarkozy owns a Dassault luxury jet, which he named after his wife, and French private jets have been in vogue with the Kremlin-friendly Russian oligarchs for years.
And what do you know?! Open the pages of Le Figaro and you will find coverage that Robert Amsterdam, attorney for persecuted oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, calls “tendentious sycophancy.” When Putin himself actually came to town, Le Figaro almost peed in its journalistic pants.
Publishing an op-ed piece by the head of Russia’s Gazprom state-owned natural gas monopoly to welcome Putin, Le Figaro urged France to become even more dependent on Russian energy, not less. It argued that France should be delighted by the Putin dictatorship, which it believes will rule Russia until at least 2024, since it offers stability and predictability. It called the sham “presidency” of Dmitry Medvedev a “tandemocracy” based on “pragmatism.” And most importantly, it totally ignored the horrifying series of murders of political opponents of the regime, including most recently the attorney Sergei Magnitsky — murders that Le Figaro’s competition Le Monde highlighted prominently.
Dassault Systems is owned and run by 84-year-old Serge Dassault, the Pat Buchanan of France (if Buchanan were successful and had a criminal record) and a close friend of Sarkozy. The company has used its influence with the French government to finagle itself and Russia into a 13-nation European consortium working on high-speed aircraft development.
Monsieur Dassault is deeply involved in French politics in a way Putin would immediately recognize; until this past summer he held both local and national office simultaneously. In June he was ousted from his mayoral position in Corbeil-Essonnes for buying votes and has been convicted in a corruption scandal involving the sale of military helicopters to Belgium. Nonetheless, he still holds a seat in the French senate.
Ultraconservative wackos like Buchanan and David Duke have long been great admirers of Putin, even without a personal financial stake in him. Buchanan calls Putin a man “determined to stand up to a West that Russians believe played them for fools when they sought to be friends.” He urges us to “show Putin some respect.” He puts full faith and credit in Putin’s popularity in opinion polls and wide margins of victory in elections, totally ignoring the fact that the Kremlin owns all the major TV stations and the elections have been shamelessly rigged.
These folks like Putin because they’d like to govern us the way Putin governs the Russians. So if they can get rich by backing him, as Dassault can, that’s only tasty icing on the already delicious cake. Dassault openly proclaims it to be his goal, by fusing commerce, media, and politics, to wipe out democratic discourse because freedom of choice, which might lead to disagreeing with Dassault, is dangerous.
The French chose not to resist Nazi Germany during World War II, but to surrender instead. Perhaps the Sarkozy regime is now adopting the same strategy in regard to Putin. Like Obama, Sarkozy has shown no willingness to stand up for democratic values in Russia; to the contrary, both governments have shown every indication that they will sell democracy down the river in an attempt to appease Putin and win short-term gains.
Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that, mimicking Le Figaro, the Obama administration “has toned down its once-strident criticism of two controversial Russian-backed pipelines,” projects designed to increase European dependence on Russian fossil fuels, projects that the Bush administration strongly opposed. The pipelines are also designed to obviate Ukraine as a transit point for Russian fuels, meaning that the country would lose the only leverage it has left against Russian imperialism.
Where, one must ask, throughout all this are the heirs of Ronald Reagan? Where are the conservatives who stood up to the “evil empire” and brought it down without firing a shot? Are they prepared to stand idly by and watch a disturbing alliance of far-right Europeans and leftist Americans turn the clock back on democracy?