Vladimir Putin Survives Worst Month of His Reign

This is my 100th column for PJ Media; it’s perhaps appropriate to take stock before reviewing what has probably been the worst month of Vladimir Putin’s life -- one so terrible it almost feels like a gift to celebrate the occasion, as he’s the reason my columns exist at all. So: Bolshoe spasibo tebe, Vova dorogoi! And thanks to all the PJ Media editors and readers who have supported the column; readers, of course, are the more important party.

My first column appeared in October 2007 -- an account of the increasing potency of Russia’s Muslim population. I then introduced heroic Russian freedom fighters like Oleg Kozlovsky, who would later -- from behind bars -- publish an op-ed blasting Vladimir Putin in the Washington Post and, when released, visit the White House. We also covered Boris Nemtsov, who became a leading figure in the Russian opposition movement. The English-speaking world would otherwise not have had access to his scholarship regarding the Putin regime without the translations my site La Russophobe provided along with the traffic driven by PJM, a source of pride for us.

We warned the world about those who were working to support Putin in the West, like professor Stephen Cohen and the Nixon Center’s Paul Saunders. And we warned repeatedly about the dangers posed by turncoat conservative Michael McFaul becoming Ambassador to Russia. That warning was particularly apt: McFaul’s “reset” policy now lies in ruins. He has been such a disastrous failure that rumors now swirl of his ouster.

We warned of the ever-increasing dangers posed by the Putin dictatorship. The world has now seen these fears become reality. Putin has formally seized power as “president” for life, has killed or jailed many of his opponents, and is working feverishly to revive the Soviet dictatorship. His hatred of the U.S., and liberty, is palpable.

But there are still occasional signs of trouble for Putin. The first three weeks of June, for instance: Putin’s sham marriage became public; he was outed for stealing a Super Bowl ring; and a clan of bikers he proudly hangs out with were accused of raping a foreign tourist.

And that was only his personal life. The Russian stock market dropped to its lowest level in two years, and inflation roared to its highest level in that period. Russia’s currency fell to its lowest value in nearly a year. Putin was forced to pull back -- twice -- planned bond offerings seeking to raise much-needed cash because puny demand meant he could not afford the necessary interest rates.

As the bad financial news piled up, Putin was forced to publicly admit that, under his misrule, Russia’s dependence on crude oil has increased by half when he should have been working to reduce it. He also had to concede that the country’s economic woes meant inevitable cutbacks in already miserly state services and dark days ahead for Russia’s vast underclass.

At least for a moment, President Obama seemed to grow a pair on the Putin regime: his State Department downgraded Russia to the lowest possible rating on human trafficking, essentially labeling it a slave state -- an intense humiliation for Putin. In another brutal condemnation, Vision of Humanity concluded that only seven nations on the planet are more brutally violent that Putin’s Russia. Also, Freedom House called Putin a liar on human rights atrocities in Chechnya.

Perhaps the worst indignity of all: Alexei Navalny, the firebrand blogger who has sought to galvanize the street protest movement, announced that despite being on trial for embezzlement in Kirov (charges that many view as politically motivated), he would still run for mayor of Moscow. He collected a party endorsement. Navalny flouted Putin’s authority from the witness stand, and fearlessly declared he would continue to challenge Putin’s authority regardless of the outcome of the court proceeding.

And then there was Nemtsov, who published yet another exposé of corruption under Putin. His focus was the 2014 Winter Olympics Putin plans to host in Sochi at the staggering cost of more than $50 billion. Not only can Russia ill afford such a sum, but Nemtsov showed that Russia won’t even get the gold-plated games it is paying for because huge chunks of the Olympic revenues are simply being looted.

Nemtsov’s profile has risen dramatically. He was able to gall Putin further by traveling to Washington, D.C., meeting John McCain and testifying before Congress about Russian human rights atrocities.

All that in a few weeks in June! I like to think Putin is keeping his staff up all night with crazed Stalin-like shrieks of vengeance; there’s even talk that he may be seriously ill. Yet those who know Russia do not get carried away with hope even when things look so gloomy for Putin.  There simply are no forces either within Russia or within the Western democracies which appear both powerful and willing enough to topple Putin, however slight a push it might require.  Navalny’s street demonstrations are a shadow of what they once were. Despite his best intentions, Navalny is no MLK. And Barack Obama continues to pursue Chamberlain-style appeasement rather than the heroic leadership of Reagan.

Putin’s avalanche of failures has not affected his anti-U.S. policies -- if anything, and just like his Soviet predecessors, the more he fails the more frenzied his attacks on the U.S. become. He announced he would send S-300 missiles to Syria and aggressively sought to block imposition of a no-fly zone there. He has been involved with giving sanctuary to Edward Snowden.

Russian popular opinion follows Putin: a recent poll (Russian-language link) revealed that Russian hatred of the U.S. had risen to its highest level in a year, with more Russians identifying the U.S. as Russia’s enemy than any other country. By contrast, they identified Russia’s closest ally as being the homicidal dictator of Belarus.  No more conclusive evidence of the failure of McFaul’s “reset” could be imagined.

It’s well past time for leadership on Russia from Republicans. As a trio of Russia scholars recently argued, the U.S. can do much more on human rights in Russia, and it should. Since Obama won’t, Republicans must. By speaking out on Putin’s atrocities and giving a forum to Russians who want to fight back, Americans can reclaim their moral leadership and hopefully foster Putin’s fall.