Putin Expands Crackdown as Obama Clings to 'Reset'

The words George W. Bush spoke at Brdo Castle in Brdo Pri Kranju, Slovenia, in June 2001 are hard to distinguish from those of Barack Obama. Both in their content and their consequences, the devastating impact of these speeches may imperil U.S. foreign policy for ages to come.

In Slovenia, Bush referred to the Cold War as a relic of the past, and declared it was “time to move beyond suspicion and towards straight talk, beyond mutually assured destruction and towards mutually earned respect.” Infamously, he also said he had looked Russia’s new ruler Vladimir Putin in the eye, “got a sense of his soul,” and found him to be a trustworthy partner. We were told that Putin’s long history as a proud KGB spy was irrelevant -- this was a new man and a new Russia.

This was just what Putin wanted to hear. Long before Bush’s first term had ended, Putin had launched a vicious crackdown on the forces of democracy in Russia. Dead were Sergei Yushenkov and Yuri Shchekochikhin, arrested were Mikhail Trepashkin and Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Putin left office just as Obama was coming in, and Obama adopted the Bush doctrine regarding Putin’s supposed successor Dmitri Medvedev, inviting him to Washington and munching cheeseburgers with him. Obama brought in Michael McFaul from the Hoover Institution to implement a “reset” of relations with Russia, a policy which would make the Bush doctrine towards Russia look like that of Ronald Reagan by comparison.

Putin was overjoyed. The Americans had taken the bait and would drop their guard as he used Medvedev to bide his time and return to power as president for life. That now accomplished, Putin has moved on to a second phase of his crackdown.

This week, it was announced that opposition leader Alexei Navalny would go the way of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the only difference being that instead of being accused of stealing oil -- as was Khodorkovsky -- Navalny would be accused of stealing timber. Same result, though. Ten years or so in Siberia to cool off any thoughts of challenging Putin for power.

Back in June, security forces acting at the order of Putin carried out almost a dozen deeply disturbing raids on leaders of the Russian democracy movement and their families, seizing computers and other things they believed to be evidence of illegal activity. Navalny was included. The move smacked of the USSR, and once again -- of course -- the Obama administration did nothing. It is clear that the Putin regime took this silence as an invitation to proceed with arrests and prosecutions of key opposition leaders like Navalny.