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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Uh-Oh Russia: Here Come the Democrats

A bipartisan FOX television attack was launched on Sunday against Russia by two highly influential members of the U.S. Senate, including the incoming Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee calling for a “confrontation.” The Associated Press reports:

WASHINGTON – Russia under President Vladimir Putin is a “one-man dictatorship” and he should do more to help the U.S. confront Iran's nuclear ambitions, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday.

Graham joined Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., in urging the Bush administration to stand up to Putin. Their views reflect U.S. concerns over democratic backsliding by the Kremlin and the increasingly assertive steps by energy-rich Russia to counter American influence.

Graham cited President Bush's statement in 2001 that he got a sense of Putin's soul during the leaders' first meeting. “I think Bush misread his soul. I think this guy is taking Russia backward,” Graham said.

“He's a problem, not a solution, to most of the world's problems. He could help us with Iran if he chose to. He is becoming basically a one-man dictatorship in Russia. And we need to be tough with him.”

When asked about the death of an ex-KGB spy poisoned in Britain, Biden said he did not know if Putin was involved, “but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with.”

“Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here,” Biden said. “We have basically been giving him a bye.”

Biden, incoming chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he would consider “laying down markers about whether or not, as (Putin) continues to consolidate power within that economy and in that country ... he warrants continued membership” in the Group of Eight leading industrial nations.

The lawmakers spoke on “Fox News Sunday.” Biden also said: "I don't know whether he's involved (in the poisoning), but our relations with Russia have to get straightened out to begin with. Russia is moving more and more toward an oligarchy here. Putin is consolidating power," Biden said, adding that the United States had failed to challenge Putin for several years. "I think that Russia is sliding further away from genuine democracy and a free-market system and more toward a command economy and the control of a single man," he said, adding that he is "not a big fan of Putin's. I think we should have a direct confrontation with Putin politically about the need for him to change his course of action.”

Asked if such a confrontation could include pushing Russia out of the G-8 summit of industrialized nations, Biden said no. But, he said, "I would consider laying down markers about whether or not, as he continues to consolidate power within that economy and in that country, whether or not he warrants continued membership," he said.

Writing in the Japan Times Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political scientist, and a visiting fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, explains the need for this confrontation: Russians have never stopped waging the Cold War:

WASHINGTON -- An old saying in politics in Moscow is that relations between the United States and Russia are always better when a Republican rules in the White House. We are statesmen, and the Republicans are statesmen. Because we both believe in power, it is easy for the two of us to understand each other.

The problem with this saying is the paranoid mind-set behind it, for it implies that the nature of Russian-U.S. relations has not changed fundamentally since the Cold War's end -- that the animosities that exist between the two countries are those of two permanently implacable geopolitical opponents.

Russians, it seems, can only feel good about themselves if they are contesting with the world's great power head to head. Indeed, Russian President Vladimir Putin considers the Soviet Union's collapse "the largest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

As a result of this mind-set, key elements in the Russian elite have tried mightily -- and with some success, especially in recent years -- to bring about a deterioration in Russian-U.S. relations. The Kremlin appears to be seeking systematically to obstruct the U.S., even when obstruction does not seem to be in Russia's national interest.

Thus, Russia sells high-technology weapons, including bombers, submarines, and perhaps an aircraft carrier, to China, which not only shares the world's longest border with Russia, but also disputes parts of that border. Russia's assistance to Iran in realizing its nuclear ambitions also falls into the category of self-destructive folly. Not only is Russia building a civilian nuclear reactor in Iran, thereby helping to advance Iranian knowledge of the nuclear process; it is also reluctant to support efforts by the U.N. Security Council to press Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

Diplomatic obstruction is not the only means Russian elites use to foster antagonism with the U.S. They also seek to inflame domestic public opinion. To maintain their influence, it seems, they believe that they need to create an image of America as Russia's implacable enemy, which, by extending NATO membership to ex-communist countries, is bringing an existential threat right to the country's doorstep.

Of course, this demonization is nothing like what we saw during the days of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, Putin still considers it necessary to pose in front of television cameras every few months to report that Russian scientists have developed some new missile that can penetrate any antiballistic missile system that the U.S. may erect.

Why Putin's advisers and public-relations managers encourage him to make these banal triumphalist announcements is difficult to fathom unless one comprehends the sense of grievance that almost all Russians feel at the loss of Great Power status. That trauma burns even deeper among Russia's rulers, where it has generated a powerful and persistent psychological complex.

For them, the U.S. and the West remain the enemy. Descartes famously said, "I think, therefore I am." Russia's rulers appear to live by the credo, "I resist America, therefore I am great."

Consider the words of Vitaly Tretyakov, the editor of the weekly Moscow News, on the recent U.S. elections. According to Tretyakov, "the coming to power of a Democrat as president in America is incomparably worse for us than the savage imperialism of today's Republican administration."

Whereas "the Republicans' actions are not aimed at us, but instead at Islamic terrorists and rogue states," under a Democratic president, Russia would likely "become a prime focus of antagonism, due to our authoritarianism, our lack of democracy, stifling of freedom, and violation of human rights." Thus, for Tretyakov, "bad Bush and his Republicans are better for us than the very bad Democrats."

Tretyakov is hardly alone. On the contrary, his morbid logic is a perfect reflection of the paranoid vision that has taken hold in the Kremlin.

But what if these people get their wishes, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization collapses and Islamists triumph? Who then will stop their advance toward Russia's southern borders from Afghanistan and Central Asia? The problem with diplomatic paranoia is not that someone is after you, but that you are unable to tell the difference between a real enemy and an imagined one.

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