When Kozlovsky Met Barry (and Sigourney)

A little over two years ago, right here on Pajamas Media, I introduced the world to a young Russian opposition leader named Oleg Kozlovsky. Much has changed for him since then.

At the time, Kozlovsky had been illegally drafted into the army in a brazen, shameless effort to silence his heroic work pushing back against the Putin regime’s encroachments on democracy and civil society. The Kremlin seriously underestimated the young man, and furious lobbying and legal efforts on his behalf soon had him out of its hands and back to work. But for all his efforts, he was totally unknown in the West, and because of the Kremlin’s chokehold on Russian mainstream media, hardly a household name in his own country either.

The Washington Post and Chicago Tribune both picked up the story and ran major news items, and Kozlovsky was able to use this attention as a springboard to a bold op-ed in the Post condemning Putin’s “gulag stability.” When the op-ed hit the streets, Kozlovsky was cooling his heels in prison after being preemptively arrested to stop him from participating in a major opposition demonstration.

The next thing you knew, Kozlovsky had started blogging in English and come to the attention of the major U.S.-based human rights organizations and the D.C. think tanks interested in Russia, particularly the conservative American Enterprise Institute. He traveled to the nation’s capital for meetings with many of them and successfully carried his campaign into the West.

Kozlovsky wasn’t done yet. In October 2008 he was given a major human rights award for his work in Russia by Human Rights First at a red-carpet ceremony in Manhattan. His award was handed to him by Hollywood superstar Sigourney Weaver.

And it didn’t end there by a long shot. Since then, Kozlovsky has started Twittering in English, defeated a neo-Soviet KGB effort to withdraw his passport to block his foreign relations, and made several more visits to the U.S. for further meetings with rights organizations, think tanks, and universities. On February 18, he made yet another sojourn to Washington, this time to attend the 2010 Washington Human Rights Summit. He was part of a group of delegates that visited the White House and met with President Barack Obama.

With so much progress in such a short time, it’s genuinely thrilling to consider what this brilliant young man may do next (that is, if he lives long enough to do it), and to contemplate the chronic indigestion his is causing deep in the bowels of the Kremlin.

But there is really bad news, too. Kozlovsky’s account of the meeting confirms that Obama means to betray the commitment to human rights, freedom, and democracy that he made integral to his campaign for the presidency. On his blog, Kozlovsky writes that Obama “bluntly stated that human rights is not the only issue that he has to take into account. Security and trade are also important and he can’t help but try to engage the governments in order to achieve result in these spheres.” He quotes Obama saying:  “We make mistakes and we will never achieve the perfect ideal.” Obama told the activists that “he had started his own career as an organizer in poor communities and so he believes that the best change always comes from below.”

I’ve already deplored the craven manner in which Obama has rolled over for the neo-Soviet goons who rule and rampage in the Russian Kremlin. But Obama cynic though I may be, I must admit to being surprised that he would so openly confess his uselessness as a defender of American values. In elevating “security and trade” over values, he sounds disturbingly like the extreme right-wing nutjobs like Pat Buchanan and Ron Paul, who believe it’s none of America’s business whether Russia rampages through Eastern Europe and Central Asia or erects a neo-Soviet dictatorship within its borders, as long as Americans aren’t bothered and can line their pockets.

What would Ronald Reagan say? Would he remind Obama that the idea America can be wealthy and secure with a maniacal KGB spy plundering the European countryside is a hopeless illusion? Would he call on Americans to remember that they are the world’s beacon light of democracy and that courageous heroes like Kozlovsky depend on American leadership and protection as they risk their lives defending our values? Would he, in fact, warn us that America’s best chance for prosperity lies in helping to make the world more democratic and more free, since Americans do best operating in that kind of environment?

In my view, America will never win real benefits in “security and trade” from the Putin Kremlin. Instead, it will be played for a fool, allowing Putin to consolidate his malignant regime while giving us nothing of substance in return. In my view, even if we did win such benefits, their cost in terms of human lives and the future of democracy would be prohibitive. I’m genuinely shocked that Obama is incapable of realizing this. It seems as if he’s openly admitting he will do what he thinks best to secure reelection, and the rest be damned.

What more proof is needed of Obama’s folly than Russia’s recent announcement that it will hold joint military exercises with the fiendish Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua? So much for the “reset” of relations! Russia is also making a serious neo-Soviet bid to establish provocative new relations with Cuba, and is moving to build a military base in the Abkhazia, territory it annexed from Georgia despite it never actually being attacked, as was nearby Ossetia.

As David Brooks pointed out in the New York Times, because Obama lacks true core beliefs, the Obama domestic “historic agenda” has already collapsed in total failure. Brooks bluntly states that “the third Democratic wave is dead.” But it’s time for Obama’s opponents to realize the serious harm Obama can still do to America’s foreign policy, setting back the cause of freedom and democracy in the world by decades. Now that Obama has gone on record confessing his uselessness, it’s time for Republicans to prove they can step into the void. If they don’t, they can hardly lay claim to offering a viable electoral alternative.

Make no mistake: Kozlovsky needs help and support, and there are others like him in Russia whose profile is not as high.   They’re not getting the help they need, and they are vulnerable to being snuffed out by the Kremlin’s merciless acts of violence and repression. He’s been told to forget about getting that help from the Obama White House, and if others aren’t prepared to step in then sooner or later he will meet the fate of heroes like Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova and Russia will slip back into the totalitarian abyss.

There’s only so much, no matter how resourceful they are, that they can do on their own, particularly when the Kremlin is able to pretend it has Obama’s blessing because of his craven silence.