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Once Again, President Trump Is Magnificently Right—This Time About Russia

President Trump offended the entire political spectrum with a tweet this morning blaming the U.S. for poor relations with Russia. “Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity,” the president said, and he is entirely correct. By this I do not mean to say that Russia is a beneficent actor in world affairs or that President Putin is an admirable world leader. Nonetheless, the president displayed both perspicacity and political courage when he pointed the finger at the United States for mismanaging the relationship with Russia.

Full disclosure: I was a card-carrying member of the neoconservative cabal that planned to bring Western-style democracy and free markets to Russia after the fall of Communism. As chief economist for the supply-side consulting firm Polyconomics, I got an appointment as an adviser to Boris Yeltsin’s finance ministry and made several trips to Moscow. Of course, the finance ministry really was a family office for Yeltsin’s oligarch friends, who were too busy stealing Russia’s economy to listen to advice. The experience cured me of the neoconservative delusion that democracy and free markets are the natural order of things.

Unfortunately, the delusion that the United States would remake Russia in its own image persisted through the Bush and Obama administrations. I have no reason to doubt the allegations that a dozen Russian intelligence officers meddled in the U.S. elections of 2016, but this was equivalent of a fraternity prank compared to America’s longstanding efforts to intervene in Russian politics.

The United States supported the 2014 Maidan uprising in Ukraine and the overthrow of the Yanukovych government in the hope of repeating the exercise in Moscow sometime later. Then-Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland pulled whatever strings America had to replace the feckless and corrupt Victor Yanukovych with a government hostile to the Kremlin. She didn’t say it in so many words, but she hoped the Ukraine coup would lead to the overthrow of Vladimir Putin. Evidently Nuland and her boss, Hillary Clinton, thought that the Ukraine coup would deprive Russia of its Black Sea naval base in Crimea, and did not anticipate that Russia simply would annex an old Russian province that belonged to Ukraine by historical accident.

At the time, liberal opinion evanesced with the notion that Moscow would follow Maidan. The Christian Science Monitor reported in February 2014:

Some in Russia's liberal community see in the Maidan a hope that the Kremlin, no matter how solid it looks, could one day crack under similar popular pressure. "What we are seeing in Ukraine is the realization of the Ukrainian people's aspiration for democracy, of the right to revolt," says Sergei Davidis, a board member of Solidarnost, a liberal opposition coalition. "It doesn't mean we're ready to follow that example. Russian conditions are different. But in the long run, as the contradictions pile up, we may well come to the same pass and find ourselves with no alternatives but the Ukrainian one."