White House Cowardice: Not a Word Spoken in Defense of Boris Nemtsov

A remarkable statement appeared in the New York Times recently. It read: “The White House issued a statement condemning Mr. Nemtsov’s arrest.”

The statement was remarkable because it compressed so much dishonesty and inaccuracy into less than a dozen words. The link the paper posted was not to any page of the White House website but -- of all things -- a page from state-controlled Russian wire service ITAR-TASS.

The statement quoted did not come from the White House at all. It came from Mike Hammer, spokesman for the National Security Council.

And there is no “condemning” in the statement. It merely asserts that the NSC was “surprised” by Nemtsov’s arrest.

Has reading gone the way of the dodo at the Gray Lady?

You may remember Boris Nemtsov -- former first deputy prime minister of Russia, former governor of a major Russian state -- as I’ve written about him before on PJM. Way back in May 2008, we were among the first to introduce the world to Nemtsov and his heroic struggle for democracy and American values in Russia, and my blog La Russophobe provided an English-language translation of his extensive writings exposing the pervasive policy failures of the Putin regime.

Since then, Nemtsov has come under relentless assault from the Kremlin and has been repeatedly jailed for daring to speak out in public about his criticisms of the regime. In fact, when he attempted to publish the latest installment of his research the Kremlin simply seized the entire print run.

But even with all that, the arrest to which the Times was referring was “surprising” to say the least, for two reasons.

First, this time Nemtsov had actually managed to obtain a permit to speak in public and to assemble a crowd. In neo-Soviet Russia, the permit is required or arrest is sure to follow. But now it is clear that the permit is meaningless -- that anyone can be arrested at any time for criticizing the neo-Soviet Kremlin.

Second, Nemtsov was treated with truly barbaric cruelty following his arrest. In the manner of Martin Luther King, Jr., he smuggled the following note from prison:

The cell is a concrete box, 1.5 by three metres, without a window and without even a mattress. A bare floor and that’s it. Absurdly, they have charged me with disobeying the police. For three hours the police bosses didn’t know what to charge me with; then they received an order from upstairs. I understand this action is designed to frighten the opposition. They are mad and don’t know what to do with us. We cannot and will not give in.

He was then made to stand for over four hours during his “trial” and then sentenced to more than two weeks in prison -- a prison which has killed other Kremlin critics, such as Sergei Magnitsky. When supporters tried to protest Nemtsov’s treatment on the streets, they too were arrested.

But the most surprising thing of all is that even though Barack Obama had met personally with Nemtsov in the past, as the NSC statement concedes, Obama did not condemn the arrest or the mistreatment that followed. In fact, he did not say one single word about the arrest or about the mistreatment, nor did anyone claiming to speak on Obama’s behalf.

Such craven anti-American cowardice, of course, emboldens the Kremlin. Indeed, it is obvious to everyone that Nemtsov’s treatment, combined with the draconian re-conviction of pro-West businessman Mikhail Khordokovsky, represents an open declaration of war by the Kremlin upon American values.

Suddenly, John McCain’s warning that Russia be excommunicated from the G-8 fellowship lest a new era of neo-Soviet darkness befall us seems prescient, not the laughing matter it was portrayed to be by leftists when first made. The Obama administration told us to trust Dmitri Medvedev, that he was a new kind of leader who would roll back the worst of the neo-Soviet excesses, that he was a leader we could trust if we would only give him a chance.

Now, we have seen the dire consequences of those Chamberlainian words of advice. The Kremlin has perceived weakness, accurately, and it has cracked down further.