The Russians and the Rogues

It is considered the biggest foreign-policy gaffe of Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign: On March 26, the former Massachusetts governor told CNN host Wolf Blitzer that Russia “is, without question, our number-one geopolitical foe.” In response, Vice President Biden denounced Romney for having a “Cold War mentality,” and many other critics questioned the GOP candidate’s understanding of global affairs. At last month’s Democratic National Convention, President Obama accused Romney of being “stuck in a Cold War mind warp.”

While “number-one geopolitical foe” may have been a poor choice of words, Romney’s broader point about Russia was not terribly controversial: The regime in Moscow “lines up with the world’s worst actors,” he said, and “when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them . . . who is it that always stands up for the world’s worst actors? It is always Russia, typically with China alongside.”

Can anyone really dispute that?

In recent years, Moscow has consistently supported anti-American dictatorships in every corner of the world, and it has consistently defended those dictatorships from sanctions and international pressure. Sadly, the vaunted Obama “reset” policy has not changed that.

Just look at the debate over Syria, where Bashar Assad’s security forces have committed the most barbaric atrocities imaginable. Russia has done far more than any other country to arm the Syrian regime and protect it from global sanctions. When Moscow vetoed a United Nations resolution condemning Syria on February 4, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called it “a travesty,” and Ambassador Susan Rice said it was “disgusting and shameful.” When Moscow vetoed yet another resolution on July 19, Rice described it as “a death knell” to the U.N. observer mission in Syria.

By aiding Assad, Russia is effectively aiding Iran, which counts Syria as its most important regional ally. Russia is also helping the Iranians by blocking the imposition of tougher U.N. sanctions designed to thwart Tehran’s nuclear program. According to Reuters, a senior Western diplomat recently said that “the Security Council would never adopt another round of sanctions against Iran because of Russian and Chinese resistance.” For that matter, Moscow has declared that the new U.S. sanctions signed into law by President Obama on August 10 are “completely unacceptable” and a “crude contradiction of international law.” On September 8, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov complained that American sanctions “are touching upon the interests of Russian business.”

Moscow has repeatedly made it harder for the West to isolate Iran, and the Kremlin has also complicated U.S. efforts to squeeze North Korea. Former U.N. advisor George Lopez points out that, after the U.N. authorized expert panels to report on sanctions against North Korea and Iran, “Russia supported the Chinese critique of the North Korean panel report.” Meanwhile, Beijing joined Moscow in denouncing the Iran panel report. (Lopez served on the North Korea panel.)

Last month, Russia agreed to forgive roughly $11 billion worth of North Korean debt.  As the New York Times noted:

The forgiveness step, which has been in the works for many months, would help clear the way for Russia to make new investments in North Korea -- a development that runs counter to American-led efforts to economically ostracize the North over its expanding arsenal of nuclear weapons.

In a statement announcing the debt deal, Russia’s foreign ministry said that it “marks the beginning of a new stage of development and financial relations between the Russian Federation and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”

North Korea and Iran were two of the “outposts of tyranny” identified by Condoleezza Rice back in 2005. Two others were Zimbabwe and Belarus.