Prospect of Putin Presidency Gives Pundit the Vapors

I read a lot of opinion pieces so that you don’t have to. Some are good enough to make our Viewpoints section. Some are… special:

[P]olitical events in Russia will become more important in the coming years, and Americans should prepare for the leverage Russia will begin to exercise.

Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Putin as Peter the Great (click image for irritating commentary)

OK, I have fresh batteries in the flashlight, a week’s supply of nonperishables in the pantry, and jumper cables in the car. What other preparations should I make?

In foreign affairs Russia will continue to block interventions into countries like Syria with their permanent veto in the UN Security Council. Whatever one’s opinions might be on humanitarian intervention it is clear what an absurdity it is for a country like Russia, whose actions in Chechnya are not far removed from Assad’s in Syria, to be able to influence international humanitarian work.

Actually, your opinions on humanitarian intervention may determine whether you find Russia’s obstructionism offensive at all. If you consider humanitarian intervention a blood sport played by cynical opportunists, then you won’t be outraged when one cynical opportunist takes his ball and goes home. Furthermore, many on the receiving end of Western interventions would have difficulty distinguishing “international humanitarian work” from what Putin and his predecessors have done in Chechnya and what Assad is doing in Syria.

Russia will continue to wield its influence over Eastern Europe, a part of the world where liberal values are struggling.

Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
The only Vlad for me

Now we’ve entered the heart of Op-Edistan, where “liberal values” are always “struggling.” Would it help if we built more torture chambers in Eastern Europe?

It should worry Americans that Russia, straddling both Europe and Asia, will be able to dictate the pace of the twenty first century more and more.

Even if dictating the pace of a century were a real possibility instead of pundit claptrap, Putin could no more do it than Peter the Great or Josef Stalin could. This sort of threat inflation makes me appreciate the relative sobriety of China panic. The Russians are not even conceivably coming.

It looks like Russia’s influence will continue to be exerted under corrupt and illegitimate governments with a demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and expansionist mindset. Whoever is the President this time next year (probably Obama) should make more of an effort to establish good economic and diplomatic relations with countries still under Russia’s shadow, especially countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in order to limit the amount of damage an presidency like Putin’s can inflict.

And to which head of state can we turn to limit the amount of damage a presidency like Obama’s (or Romney’s, or Santorum’s) can inflict? Who will save Americans and others from the demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and the expansionist mindset of the Kremlin on the Potomac? Is there an extraterrestrial force for good to which we can appeal?

Upsetting the Reset

Last week, the Federation of American Scientists released “Upsetting the Reset: The Technical Basis of Russian Concern Over NATO Missile Defense” [.pdf]. The introduction includes a recurring theme of the Bush-Obama years:

In September 2009, the Obama administration discarded its predecessor’s European missile defense initiative that called for powerful ground-based interceptors (GBIs) in Poland with a large radar site in the Czech Republic. … Some Russian critics characterized them as threatening because they could potentially be re-engineered to be offensive nuclear-tipped missiles.

Remember when Putin seized the North Pole? This bear won't forget.
Remember when Putin seized the North Pole? This bear won't forget.

The Obama administration instead proposed the new European Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), presented as a more flexible alternative based on the roughly ten times smaller SM-3 interceptors. …

The shelving of the original plan was initially greeted with much optimism as it was seen as the first step in “resetting” bilateral relations with Russia, which had suffered under the George W. Bush administration. It allowed the discussions of New START to get off the ground and cleared the way for greater cooperation on areas of common concern, such as addressing the possible military dimension of the Iranian nuclear program.

Over the last two years – as details and analysis of the PAA plan have emerged – Russian officials have voiced increasing concern about its scope and implications for Russia’s strategic deterrent forces.

How dare they! With popular villain big bad Vlad on his way back to the Kremlin, expect a surge in stories about Russian paranoia and expansionism.

Medvedev’s ‘Tough Guy Act’

According to CBS, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s first six months in office have contradicted the “liberal” reputation he (apparently) had when he was first elected. Maybe it’s a shock to some that one can be “soft spoken” and never have been a KGB spook and yet still, as president, look out of the interests of one’s country. But the examples given for Medvedev’s alleged illiberalism don’t hold water.

Opposition to missile defense? Nearly everyone with a clue is opposed to the US basing a missile defense system, especially one that does not even work, in Poland and the Czech Republic. Being a liberal in either the contemporary American or the classical sense doesn’t preclude opposing US imperial ambitions, anyhow.

Criticizing the US financial system? Hasn’t everyone all the way up to our own president done so by now? Economists have been warning of a collapse for years and classical liberals have been warning about bubbles since before anyone alive on this planet was born. This is hardly a “continu[ation]” of “Cold War rhetoric” on Medvedev’s part.

Georgia. Please. I think any journalist who would like to remain credible at this point should just recognize that Georgia did indeed begin the August conflict, and not desperately reach for something, anything with which to bludgeon Russia — even for filler in a weak hit piece. Really, if all you have is that Russia “used excessive force against Georgia” — not at all an objectively measurable statement — you simply must shut up.

And then, oh no! Russia sends a warship to Venezuela. Somehow, the completely insignificant country of Venezuela has become the boogeyman not just of the right wing, but of the mainstream as well. You don’t have to be a fan of that Chávez clown to be confused by all the wasted breath over a government with no choice but to sell Bush’s America its oil. That Russia wants to add a little luster to its rusty, crumbled image does not make Medvedev suddenly anti-liberal.

No, it’s not Medvedev’s image as a liberal that is in doubt — if it ever existed. It’s CBS’s as a significant source of original journalism. This frivolous, vacuous bit of tripe doesn’t belong on a news page. For more sophisticated analysis of Russia and its foreign (and domestic) policy, I suggest War Nerd.