Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mikhail Khodorkovsky

What Khodorkovsky Knows About Freedom

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, until last week Russia’s most famous political prisoner, gave an interview to a group of Russian-speaking journalists in Berlin over the weekend that showed both why he was such a threat to Vladimir Putin and why he is no longer such a threat. The New York Times has a translation of the interview, and it’s notable for both his clear-eyed understanding of the politics of freedom as well as his personal modesty inflected with a sense of defeat.

The most obvious reason Khodorkovsky was a threat, of course, was money. He was an oligarch in the most important industry–oil–and therefore was in position to test Putin’s autocratic tendencies. Khodorkovsky was emblematic of virtually every aspect of the new Russia: the concentration of wealth thanks to what economist Marshall Goldman has called the “piratization of Russia” after the fall of Communism, the bare-knuckle business world of the Yeltsin years, and the strongman politics of Putin’s reassertion of state power and control.

When Khodorkovsky challenged Putin in the political sphere–virtually unavoidable for an oilman in the era of pipeline politics–Putin made him pay the only way an unreformed KGB thug knows how: he stole everything of Khodorkovsky’s and locked him up on trumped-up convictions after a show trial. Now that Khodorkovsky has been freed as part of Putin’s pre-Olympics public-relations campaign, will Khodorkovsky–once considered the best hope for the opposition, and a far more appealing candidate than the nationalist Aleksei Navalny–rejoin the political sphere? Probably not:

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Mikhail Khodorkovsky, until last week Russia’s most famous political prisoner, gave an interview to a group of Russian-speaking journalists in Berlin over the weekend that showed both why he was such a threat to Vladimir Putin and why he is no longer such a threat. The New York Times has a translation of the interview, and it’s notable for both his clear-eyed understanding of the politics of freedom as well as his personal modesty inflected with a sense of defeat.

The most obvious reason Khodorkovsky was a threat, of course, was money. He was an oligarch in the most important industry–oil–and therefore was in position to test Putin’s autocratic tendencies. Khodorkovsky was emblematic of virtually every aspect of the new Russia: the concentration of wealth thanks to what economist Marshall Goldman has called the “piratization of Russia” after the fall of Communism, the bare-knuckle business world of the Yeltsin years, and the strongman politics of Putin’s reassertion of state power and control.

When Khodorkovsky challenged Putin in the political sphere–virtually unavoidable for an oilman in the era of pipeline politics–Putin made him pay the only way an unreformed KGB thug knows how: he stole everything of Khodorkovsky’s and locked him up on trumped-up convictions after a show trial. Now that Khodorkovsky has been freed as part of Putin’s pre-Olympics public-relations campaign, will Khodorkovsky–once considered the best hope for the opposition, and a far more appealing candidate than the nationalist Aleksei Navalny–rejoin the political sphere? Probably not:

Q: Are you going to be involved in politics?

A: I am not going to be involved in politics as a fight for power. But if we are talking about the fight for liberation of political prisoners, not just the Yukos ones … how can I behave otherwise? I don’t think that even our power would expect me not to do it. Not to do or say anything.

But in the larger sense I have a position which I don’t think was the reason for my arrest, but nevertheless I declared it back in 2002-3. I think the Russian problem is not just the president as a person, the problem is that our citizens in the large majority don’t understand that their fate, they have to be responsible for it themselves. They are so happy to delegate it to, say, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and then they will entrust it to somebody else, and I think that for such a big country as Russia this is the path to a dead end. Which, in a particular fashion, is where we are now.

You have to explain, “Hey, guys, if you want to live in a democratic country, you have to change the system.” I always took the stand that Russia has to be not only really democratic, but a parliamentary system, or — for the start — a parliamentary-presidential situation.

And the problem is not just that the present government doesn’t like this, the current society doesn’t like it. And you have to persuade it.

Putin can breathe a sigh of relief, one supposes, that he will not be opposed by Khodorkovsky, though it’s not as though Khodorkovsky has many options. For now, he probably can’t return to Russia at all, let alone regain the financial clout necessary to have a singular voice in Putin’s Russia. It’s no surprise that Putin won this battle; the deck was, and remains, stacked against his opponents. Khodorkovsky has been left without much of a venue or platform for political activism, even if he’s become an icon of those hoping for a freer Russia.

At the same time, the Russian opposition would do well to take Khodorkovsky’s advice. He understands that Putin is the main obstacle to democracy, but not the only obstacle. He elaborates more on this point later in the interview, and offers a glimpse of just how potent an opposition figure he could be:

Q: Does the opposition in Russia have any future, and who is the main person there?

A: I don’t agree with the very paradigm of the juxtaposition of Putin versus an opposition leader. And the most important person in the opposition, I don’t agree with this paradigm. If you have a most important person in the opposition, as a result you will get another Putin. Maybe not us but our children. Vladimir Vladimirovich is a healthy man. So it could go on for a long time.

I think the opposition will be real when the society will acquire a need for self-governance, to take its fate in its own hands. And there will not be the very main person to whom we entrust our future. But there will be different structures, parties, deputies and so on — those people whom we as citizens and voters will appoint. Or control. They will represent our interests, and when they will stop representing our interests, we will remove them. But not one person.

At present, the perspective of opposition is not very strong, particularly because this request in the society is articulated pretty weakly, although much more strongly than it was 10 years ago.

There is a difference between freedom and self-government. They are intertwined, but they are not the same thing. Freedom is a noble goal, and in 2013 it is long overdue to those who want it. True freedom must be political, however, and not just personal. Without political freedom, there is no way to safeguard any other kind of freedom.

That’s been the lesson of Putin’s Russia. Putin’s grand bargain with the Russian people was that they could have their American movies, their Italian operas, their French wine, their German cars–they just had to stay away from Russian politics. But of course businessmen–like Khodorkovsky–as well as artists, teachers, musicians, and the like ended up in prison. Journalists too, though too often they were simply eliminated.

Khodorkovsky’s advice for Russians who truly want to be free is to replace the system, not just replace Putin. It’s easier said than done, of course. But he is also probably correct that those who invest their hopes in one person are bound for disappointment. And perhaps some jail time.

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Putin’s Smoke and Mirrors

You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. As a tactical politician, he has few if any equals in the world today; Barack Obama is a naïf by comparison. Just look at what Putin has accomplished this fall. He began by wrong-footing the U.S. in Syria, cobbling together a deal that keeps his ally Bashar Assad in power with de facto connivance from the U.S., all at the small price of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. More recently he has wrested Ukraine away from the European Union with a generous bribe–er, loan–of $15 billion and a price reduction in the natural gas that Ukraine buys from Russia. And now, to complete his tour de force, he is magnanimously freeing from jails a few of the political dissidents he had earlier locked up.

On Wednesday, Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament passed a bill that will likely offer amnesty to two members of Pussy Riot and 30 Greenpeace activists who are currently in the slammer. Today, Putin suggested out of nowhere that he would release Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, who was arrested in 2003 on charges that were widely seen to be politically inspired, his crime being in essence to oppose Putin. Now that Khodorkovksy has lost control of Yukos Oil, and been subjected to a grueling confinement, Putin, in the manner of a medieval czar, will show his generosity of spirit by releasing him. Of course there is an obvious political payoff to Putin: he no doubt hopes that these prisoner releases will decrease the amount of controversy at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

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You have to hand it to Vladimir Putin. As a tactical politician, he has few if any equals in the world today; Barack Obama is a naïf by comparison. Just look at what Putin has accomplished this fall. He began by wrong-footing the U.S. in Syria, cobbling together a deal that keeps his ally Bashar Assad in power with de facto connivance from the U.S., all at the small price of disarming Syria of its chemical weapons. More recently he has wrested Ukraine away from the European Union with a generous bribe–er, loan–of $15 billion and a price reduction in the natural gas that Ukraine buys from Russia. And now, to complete his tour de force, he is magnanimously freeing from jails a few of the political dissidents he had earlier locked up.

On Wednesday, Russia’s rubber-stamp parliament passed a bill that will likely offer amnesty to two members of Pussy Riot and 30 Greenpeace activists who are currently in the slammer. Today, Putin suggested out of nowhere that he would release Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, once the richest man in Russia, who was arrested in 2003 on charges that were widely seen to be politically inspired, his crime being in essence to oppose Putin. Now that Khodorkovksy has lost control of Yukos Oil, and been subjected to a grueling confinement, Putin, in the manner of a medieval czar, will show his generosity of spirit by releasing him. Of course there is an obvious political payoff to Putin: he no doubt hopes that these prisoner releases will decrease the amount of controversy at the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.

But while Putin is a skilled tactician, his larger vision is lacking. Russia has done relatively well on his watch because of its mineral wealth–it is Saudi Arabia with snow. But now the economy has slowed (growth next year is expected to be a paltry 1.4 percent) and even Putin’s own economy minister predicts that “stagnation will continue.” Indeed it will, for Russia is a ticking demographic time bomb.

Its population has been in freefall, as Reuters notes: “The population started declining sharply in the early 1990s amid political and economic turmoil, falling by 3.4 million in the 2000-2010 decade, according to census data. The impact is set to be felt sharply from now on, exactly when children born in 1990s would have started entering the workforce. The consequences are already being felt. Russia will close more than 700 schools this year for lack of pupils and the jobless rate has dipped to a record low of around 5 percent, not because the economy is booming but because the country is running out of people who can take the jobs.”

Even if Russia’s birth rate has now risen above its death rate, this is not a country with a healthy future. And while much of that is due to the legacy of 70 years of Communist failures, Putin has not done a good job of recovering from the baleful legacy he inherited. Instead he has focused on building up and milking the big oil companies, buying off or jailing opposition, and accumulating all power in his own hands. Putin may fool himself and some of his people that Russia remains a great power, but in fact it’s largely a matter of smoke and mirrors.

Putin deserves credit, I suppose, for his Machiavellian machinations. But no number of tactical victories in the realm of geopolitical maneuvering will improve life for average Russians (whose per capita GDP is lower than East Timor’s)–or Russia’s long-term prospects as a country, which would be better served by cooperation with, rather than animosity against, the West.

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The Life and Fate of Boris Berezovsky

In late 2009, Russia lost a man it had already begun to forget. Yegor Gaidar, the architect of the “shock therapy” designed to transition Russia immediately from socialism to capitalism, died at the very young age of 53. Gaidar was sorely underappreciated, because the troubled Yeltsin years that followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union were marked by hardship and the wiping out of Russians’ savings. Gaidar was a staunch proponent of privatization because he understood the primacy of private property in any aspiring democracy.

Aside from Gorbachev and Yeltsin, few in Russia could be said to have had as much influence on the new Russia as the brilliant Gaidar. And few could be said to have personified the Russia inherited from Gaidar more than Boris Berezovsky, who died in exile in England over the weekend. Berezovsky was one of the original “oligarchs,” who got rich quickly in the new Russia and used his wealth to influence Russian politics, first by backing Yeltsin and then by helping to elevate Vladimir Putin. Putin would betray Berezovsky by seeking to undo much of Gaidar’s privatization and wrest control of the oligarchs’ assets. Some challenged Putin, like the still-imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky; some wavered, like Berezovsky; some played along, like Berezovsky’s former partner, Roman Abramovich. Berezovsky put two and two together and fled Russia, never to return. He sued Abramovich in a London court, which ruled against Berezovsky in 2012. The suit nearly bankrupted Berezovsky of his wealth and, it seemed from his reaction, his very will to live.

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In late 2009, Russia lost a man it had already begun to forget. Yegor Gaidar, the architect of the “shock therapy” designed to transition Russia immediately from socialism to capitalism, died at the very young age of 53. Gaidar was sorely underappreciated, because the troubled Yeltsin years that followed the disintegration of the Soviet Union were marked by hardship and the wiping out of Russians’ savings. Gaidar was a staunch proponent of privatization because he understood the primacy of private property in any aspiring democracy.

Aside from Gorbachev and Yeltsin, few in Russia could be said to have had as much influence on the new Russia as the brilliant Gaidar. And few could be said to have personified the Russia inherited from Gaidar more than Boris Berezovsky, who died in exile in England over the weekend. Berezovsky was one of the original “oligarchs,” who got rich quickly in the new Russia and used his wealth to influence Russian politics, first by backing Yeltsin and then by helping to elevate Vladimir Putin. Putin would betray Berezovsky by seeking to undo much of Gaidar’s privatization and wrest control of the oligarchs’ assets. Some challenged Putin, like the still-imprisoned Mikhail Khodorkovsky; some wavered, like Berezovsky; some played along, like Berezovsky’s former partner, Roman Abramovich. Berezovsky put two and two together and fled Russia, never to return. He sued Abramovich in a London court, which ruled against Berezovsky in 2012. The suit nearly bankrupted Berezovsky of his wealth and, it seemed from his reaction, his very will to live.

Of course, just as Berezovsky’s life and fate were typical of post-Yeltsin Russia, his death could not come without intrigue. The headlines of the first three stories on Berezovsky’s death in the Guardian seemed almost inevitable. Soon after Berezovsky was found dead the paper published a story titled “Boris Berezovsky: a tale of revenge, betrayal and feuds with Putin.” The next day came the logical follow-up: “Boris Berezovsky’s death leaves friends suspecting foul play,” followed by “No evidence that Boris Berezovsky was killed, say police.”

More than anything, the Guardian’s Luke Harding points out, Berezovsky misread Putin from the outset:

Berezovsky had reckoned that his friend would be a pliable successor – and that he, the ultimate Kremlin insider, would continue to pull the strings. Quickly, however, it became apparent that Putin had his own vision of Russia: a less democratic place, in which the country’s spy agencies would play a vanguard role, and with Putin in charge. The two clashed; Putin seized Berezovsky’s ORT TV station; and Berezovsky decamped to London. Their feud was nasty and would lead ultimately to Berezovsky’s death at the age of 67 in exile.

Yet according to a Russian journalist who interviewed Berezovsky on Friday, the oligarch claimed his greatest miscalculation was “that Russia is so dear to me that I cannot be an émigré.” Exile was killing him, but there was no way he could return to Russia.

Berezovsky was hopelessly devoted to somehow deposing Putin. It was never clear whether this mission was primarily driven by greed, homesickness, delusion, vengeance, or guilt; probably it was a potent mix of them all, impossible to untangle. But it is the guilt that is most interesting, because it would be almost noble. And nobility was something Berezovsky’s vast wealth and power could never buy him. It was not self-aggrandizement for Berezovsky to claim he created Putin—he did—but neither was it something of which he would have wanted to boast. Thus Berezovsky’s death was a tragedy but, to many Russians, so was his life.

There is a Shakespearean quality to Berezovsky’s story. And in the suspicion that Putin must have had something to do with Berezovsky’s death there is something distinctly representative of the Russia Berezovsky helped create, a place in which nothing is believable until it strains the imagination and defies mundane explanation. In his haunting new book on Russia’s cultural mourning of its Stalinist past, Alexander Etkind writes:

I would speculate that the historical processes of catastrophic scale traumatize the first generation of descendants, and it is their daughters and sons—the grandchildren of the victims, perpetrators, and onlookers—who produce the work of mourning for their grandparents: mass graves for the generation of terror, trauma for the first postcatastrophic generation, and mourning for the second.

Berezovsky was always too busy to mourn the past. And one of the great ironies of the Berezovsky tale is that the man he helped install, Putin, has tried to rescue elements of Stalin’s brutal legacy from mourning by insisting that some of it deserves celebration. Berezovsky was part of a generation that ran as fast they could away from Soviet collectivism and Communism, presciently aware that the past was in hot pursuit. Yet the threat to Berezovsky was right in front of him, in the future he so energetically crafted. Like most who spend too much time looking over their shoulder, he never saw it coming.

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ExxonMobil’s Role in Oil Tycoon’s Arrest

On October 25, 2003, machine-gun bearing Russian police raided oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s jet as it was refueling in the Siberian metropolis of Novosibirsk. They arrested Khodorkovsky, and he remains in prison to this day–though his release date, which is consistently pushed back, is now set for the year 2017.

The story that led up to Khodorkovsky’s arrest is fairly well-known: he was one of the “oligarchs” who took control of a state oil company in the 1990s and openly challenged Vladimir Putin in the political sphere. Claiming justice for Russia, Putin charged Khodorkovsky’s firm, Yukos, with tax evasion, declared it bankrupt, and seized control of the oil giant for the state, keeping Khodorkovsky locked up on trumped-up charges. But now there is a new wrinkle in the story, and according to Steve Coll’s new book on ExxonMobil, out today, Putin may have been spooked into arresting Khodorkovsky when he did (it’s not a question of “if”) after a conversation with Exxon CEO Lee Raymond.

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On October 25, 2003, machine-gun bearing Russian police raided oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s jet as it was refueling in the Siberian metropolis of Novosibirsk. They arrested Khodorkovsky, and he remains in prison to this day–though his release date, which is consistently pushed back, is now set for the year 2017.

The story that led up to Khodorkovsky’s arrest is fairly well-known: he was one of the “oligarchs” who took control of a state oil company in the 1990s and openly challenged Vladimir Putin in the political sphere. Claiming justice for Russia, Putin charged Khodorkovsky’s firm, Yukos, with tax evasion, declared it bankrupt, and seized control of the oil giant for the state, keeping Khodorkovsky locked up on trumped-up charges. But now there is a new wrinkle in the story, and according to Steve Coll’s new book on ExxonMobil, out today, Putin may have been spooked into arresting Khodorkovsky when he did (it’s not a question of “if”) after a conversation with Exxon CEO Lee Raymond.

The backstory is as follows. In 2002, both U.S. and Russian leadership believed the moment was ripe for more integration of Russia into the global economy. While there was always risk, American officials and businessmen assumed (correctly) that foreign firms would be safer doing business in Russia, which lacked reliable law and order and which was rife with corruption, if Russian companies had investments in the West. It was an economic strategy based on bringing Russia into the 21st century with regard to global economic cooperation and the safeguards that came with it.

Much of this cooperation was, at least at first, centered on the oil industry. Raymond’s ExxonMobil was ready to invest seriously in the emerging Russian energy sector. At the same time, Khodorkovsky was looking to sell a stake in Yukos to Western investors. For Raymond, Khodorkovsky’s company made the most sense: Khodorkovsky had begun a campaign to clean up his own books as an example to other Russian firms in an attempt to change the culture of Russian business. Khodorkovsky was also young, charming, and well-connected in the West. He believed he was insulating himself somewhat against possible political backlash at home both with these foreign connections and with his popularity growing in Russia.

Raymond, however, was not interested in buying into a firm unless he had a clear path to owning a majority (and controlling) stake in it. Khodorkovsky balked at Raymond’s desire to buy a controlling share. So he suggested a compromise: ExxonMobil would purchase a 30 percent stake in Yukos, and then later attempt to get permission from the Kremlin to buy enough shares for a controlling stake. Putin was open to foreign investment but wary of the idea of an American oilman running one of Putin’s “national champions”–energy exporters of power and pride. Putin would have to sign off on any such deal. But Khodorkovsky told Raymond this was not a good time to approach Putin on the matter. Invest in the initial offering, Khodorkovsky suggested to Raymond, and then later on, when the time is right, seek expansion.

Raymond, understandably, took this to be a weak and opaque attempt at giving him the run-around. So as negotiations continued into 2003, Raymond eventually met with Putin one-on-one during Putin’s trip to New York. Raymond made his pitch. Putin asked, just to be sure he was hearing this correctly, if Raymond was suggesting that after this sale, if Putin wanted to do anything with regard to Yukos, he would have to ask ExxonMobil’s permission? Yes, Raymond responded. Coll then describes the reaction:

Lee Raymond’s remarks about what Russia would have to do to satisfy ExxonMobil may have grated on Putin, however. “The report that we got back later was that Putin perceived him as just totally arrogant and far too aggressive,” [Yukos CFO Bruce] Misamore recalled. “And he just really was totally turned off by Lee Raymond–this big U.S. industrialist coming, and his arrogance, and telling the president of a country how things are going to be, almost…. Putin was just totally turned off by the guy–that was the report we got.”

From Putin’s perspective, Khodorkovsky was challenging him at home and bringing in the well-connected Americans to box him in further. So he threw a brushback pitch.

Raymond’s meeting with Putin may have been something of a final straw, but it’s hard to blame him for Khodorkovsky’s arrest. It’s far more likely that Putin was waiting for an excuse to put Khodorkovsky away, and decided this was it. Though he said he’d never run for president, Khodorkovsky was exercising far too much personal autonomy for Putin’s taste, and Putin has only confirmed his bad faith and disregard for the rule of law since that episode. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting footnote to a case that has become emblematic of the perils of Putin’s Russia.

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Morning Commentary

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

So how’s that “reset” with Russia going? Turns out the U.S.’s light criticism of Mikhail Khodorkovsky’s six-year prison sentence last week did little to faze the Kremlin. Russian police arrested 130 protesters during a New Year’s Eve demonstration against the Khodorkovsky verdict and the country’s prohibition of free assembly.

Greece and the state of California have two things in common — spiraling debt and an unwillingness to take responsibility for it. According to Victor Davis Hanson, it’s no coincidence that both populations can’t stop railing against “them” — the others who apparently created the financial messes Greece and California now face. Writes Hanson: “Oz is over with and the Greeks are furious at ‘them.’ Furious in the sense that everyone must be blamed except themselves. So they protest and demonstrate that they do not wish to stop borrowing money to sustain a lifestyle that they have not earned—but do not wish to cut ties either with their EU beneficiaries and go it alone as in the 1970s. So they rage against reality.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Jamie Kirchick calls out Julian Assange for leaking information that has served only to weaken our democracy-supporting allies, such as Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: “Which leads us back to WikiLeaks and Mr. Assange, who lacks any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, many of which are not at all devious. If Mr. Assange were genuinely committed to democracy, as he claims, he would reveal the minutes of Mr. Mugabe’s war cabinet, or the private musings of the Chinese Politburo that has sustained the Zimbabwean dictator for over three decades.”

Is Obama now cribbing speech tips from the National Review? Bill Kristol has the scoop on the president’s sudden appreciation for American exceptionalism.

With a new year comes a whole host of brand new state laws you may have already unwittingly broken. If you’re from California, check out Mark Hemingway’s post at the Washington Examiner — he has saved you the time of going through the Golden State’s 725 new laws by highlighting the ones that will probably irk you the most.

The incoming Republican chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Darrell Issa, told Ed Henry on CNN yesterday that he won’t investigate whether President Obama offered Joe Sestak a position in the administration in exchange for dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary in Pennsylvania last year: “That’s — it was wrong if it was done in the Bush administration. It’s wrong in the Obama administration. But remember, the focus of our committee has always been, and you look at all the work I’ve done over the past four years on the oversight committee; it has been consistently about looking for waste, fraud and abuse. That’s the vast majority of what we do,” Issa told Henry. Issa had previously called the Sestak incident “Obama’s Watergate” and said that the Obama administration may have committed “up to three felonies” by making the deal.

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Afternoon Commentary

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

Vladmir Putin’s political opponent Mikhail Khodorkovsky was convicted of money laundering and embezzlement yesterday in what many have denounced as a show-trial. The verdict came as no surprise to Khodorkovsky, who calmly read a book as the judge issued the decision. U.S. officials have offered some token condemnations of the conviction, but clearly the Obama administration is unwilling to take any action that might disrupt the “reset” process with Russia just days after the New START treaty was ratified by Congress.

Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangarai may be brought up on treason charges, after WikiLeaks cables revealed that he privately asked the U.S. to keep sanctions against his country in place: “State media reports have said hardline supporters of the president, Robert Mugabe, want an official inquiry into Tsvangirai’s discussion of international sanctions with the US ambassador in Harare. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party said last week the government should draft a law that makes it a treasonable offence to call for sanctions.” The punishment for high treason is the death penalty in Zimbabwe. Tsvangarai, a longtime foe of the dictatorial Mugabe, has discovered that being inside his government may be as dangerous as being outside of it.

President Obama continues to use the argument that Guantanamo Bay is al Qaeda’s “number one recruitment tool.” But how often do terror leaders actually mention Gitmo? At the Weekly Standard, Thomas Joscelyn scours the transcripts of the public speeches of al Qaeda leaders since 2009, and finds that very few refer to the detention facility.

The unwillingness of many libertarians to compromise ideological principles – even among themselves – prevents the movement from gaining any serious political power, writes Christopher Beam in New York magazine: “It’s no coincidence that most libertarians discover the philosophy as teenagers. At best, libertarianism means pursuing your own self-interest, as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. At worst, as in Ayn Rand’s teachings, it’s an explicit celebration of narcissism. ‘Man’s first duty is to himself,’ says the young architect Howard Roark in his climactic speech in The Fountainhead. ‘His moral obligation is to do what he wishes.’ Roark utters these words after dynamiting his own project, since his vision for the structure had been altered without his permission. The message: Never compromise.”

In case you needed a reminder on what a joke the UN is, Mary Katharine Ham rounded up the top 10 most “UN-believable” moments of 2010. Number 4: “The UN narrowly avoided putting Iran on its Commission on the Status of Women — a sort of sop to the Islamic Republic in the wake of its rejection for the Human Rights Council — thanks to loud push-back from the U.S. and human-rights groups. Perhaps stoning was a bridge too far. But it does now boast Saudi Arabia as a member of the commission. Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, must always wear abaya in public, and are punished for being in public without a male relative as an escort.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas criticizes Israel as an obstacle to peace, and promises that an independent state of Palestine won’t allow a single Israeli within its borders. “We have frankly said, and always will say: If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli in it,” Abbas told reporters on Saturday. (Cue crickets chirping from the left).

Meanwhile, Jeffrey Goldberg groundlessly worries about whether Israel will soon cease being a democracy: “Let’s just say, as a hypothetical, that one day in the near future, Prime Minister [Avigdor] Lieberman’s government (don’t laugh, it’s not funny) proposes a bill that echoes the recent call by some rabbis to discourage Jews from selling their homes to Arabs. Or let’s say that Lieberman’s government annexes swaths of the West Bank in order to take in Jewish settlements, but announces summarily that the Arabs in the annexed territory are in fact citizens of Jordan, and can vote there if they want to, but they won’t be voting in Israel. What happens then?” Say what you will about Lieberman but, actually, his position has always been that some Arab towns and villages that are part of Israel should be given to a Palestinian state while Jewish settlement blocs are annexed to Israel. That may not be what the Palestinians want or even what many Israelis want but the outcome Lieberman desires would be a democratic and Jewish state.

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Morning Commentary

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

Congress passed the extension of the Bush tax cuts last night, prompting Charles Krauthammer to dub President Obama “the comeback kid”: “Now, with his stunning tax deal, Obama is back. Holding no high cards, he nonetheless managed to resurface suddenly not just as a player but as orchestrator, dealmaker and central actor in a high $1 trillion drama.”

As Congress debates New START, the centerpiece of the “reset” strategy with Russia, Prime Minister Putin continues to defend the authority of the Russian security forces:  “These bodies of power carry out the state’s most important function,” Mr. Putin said. “Otherwise, our liberal intelligentsia will have to shave off their goatees and put on helmets themselves and go out to the square to fight radicals themselves.”

On the Senate floor yesterday, John McCain gave a stirring defense of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Putin’s jailed political opponent, who will face a trial Dec. 27. The Arizona senator was one of eight Senate Republicans to vote to open debate on New START and is a key swing vote on the treaty’s ratification: “Yesterday, the Senate voted to take up the New START Treaty. To be sure, this Treaty should be considered on its merits to our national security, but it is only reasonable to ask: If Russian officials demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the rights and legal obligations owed to one of their own citizens, how will they treat us — and the legal obligations, be it this Treaty or any other, that they owe to us?”

Former Israeli national security adviser Giora Eiland said on Thursday that Israel would currently be unable to defeat Hezbollah in a direct engagement. “Israel does not know how to beat Hezbollah. … Therefore a war waged only as Israel-versus-Hezbollah might yield better damage on Hezbollah, but Hezbollah would inflict far worse damage on the Israeli homefront than it did 4-1/2 years ago.”

Is it dangerous for Michele Obama to frame the fight against childhood obesity as a national security issue? Michael A. Walsh outlines the problems with the First Lady’s comments: “Forget private-property rights or the rumblings in your belly. In Obama’s America, you will no longer be allowed to freely make economic and nutritional decisions about how to feed yourself and your family. Somebody else — the city, the state, the first lady — will do that for you. After all, it’s a matter of national security.”

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There Is a Moral Void in the Oval Office

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

It struck me in observing the FPI conference yesterday and in reading Eli Lake’s piece on Russian democracy activist Boris Nemtsov, the former Russian deputy prime minister, that there is a a growing realization by those who are and should be friends of America that the U.S. is AWOL when it comes to leading the West and the values the West stands for.

At yesterday’s session, former Spanish president Jose Maria Aznar reminded the audience that America is the “indispensable” nation and bemoaned the president’s decided lack of attention to Europe. (The U.S. is not looking at Europe,” he remarked.) When asked about his concerns regarding the Obama administration, he bluntly responded,

As you know, I am not a supporter of President Obama. … This is the first time the Europeans feel that for the American President, especially after the First and Second World War, Europe is not a priority. It is not an important part of the solution. … A lot of Europeans think Mr. Obama is not an American president. Now, he’s living in a moment of confusion, and disagrees in economic terms. … Politically, leadership is in my opinion weak. Economically, it is a very serious problem. I consider that the current economic American policy is a huge mistake, and in terms of security, it depends.

To send the message that the power, the force, in the sense of the United States, the presence of the United States is necessary to maintain. I hear every day organize and pull out the 19 troops, and another day, no. What is the policy of the United States. It is not possible if you want to maintain the capacity to be the leader in the world.

After his public remarks, I asked Aznar, who is a founder of the Friends of Israel Initiative, whether Israel delegitimizers have been inspired by Obama’s public animus to the Jewish state. He replied that when there is an opportunity, Israel’s delegitimizers grab it. (He also contends that things are better now between the U.S. and Israel, reflecting some observers’ misperception, I would argue, that the absence of public shouting matches denotes a more productive relationship.)

Eli’s piece provides more support for the unfortunate conclusion that Obama’s disinterest in human rights and yearning to remove conflicts with rivals and foes (even at the price of sacrificing our own interests) is leaving our friends bewildered. He explains with regard to Nemtsov :

“Russians do not know what Obama thinks about human rights and democracy,” he told a conference held by the Foreign Policy Initiative.

The criticism from Mr. Nemtsov highlights the Obama administration’s approach to improving relations with Russia that critics say has neglected past U.S. priorities for Russia, such as advancing democracy and the rule of law. Instead, the administration has sought to win Russian cooperation with U.S. goals at the United Nations, to sanction Iran and to win cooperation for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.

Here’s the stunner, conveyed by Eli:

In the meeting, Mr. Nemtsov presented Mr. Obama with a copy of a 2005 Senate resolution co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama condemning the arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oligarch who was detained in 2005 on charges widely considered to be political retaliation from Mr. Putin, who was then Russia’s president.

Mr. Nemtsov said the president’s face had no expression when presented with the old resolution. He only said, “I know.”

“I was disappointed,” Mr. Nemtsov said of the encounter with Mr. Obama over Mr. Khodorkovsky. “I talked with [White House Russia specialist] Michael McFaul about that. He had a clear position about this case; he agreed with me. I don’t think Obama had a clear position. If Obama had this position, I am sure he would have responded.”

Think about that. The leader of the Free World is presented with information about one of the most highly publicized Russian human-rights violations and expresses no emotion or even interest in it. Can you image any other U.S. president reacting in this way?

In sum, the concern that Aznar and Nemstov expresses is one that conservatives have raised for some time: Obama’s lack of resolve and reticence on human rights is leaving allies in the lurch and making the world a more dangerous place. Obama, who is quite enamored of European opinion, would do well to listen to what some of its best representatives are saying.

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Will Corruption Halt Chinese and Russian Development?

To follow up on my earlier item, regarding barriers to China’s economic development: nothing makes the point more poignantly than news that China’s richest man has just been sentenced to 14 years in jail. Huang Guangyu has been accused of assorted corporate crimes, but few think he is another Bernie Madoff. More likely he is just another corner cutter engaging in the sort of routine practices, including bribery, that other Chinese tycoons engage in. The general view is that he simply wasn’t very skillful politically and got on the wrong side of some powerful faction within the ruling Communist Party.

In some ways his case is reminiscent of that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who at one time was Russia’s richest man before clashing with the Kremlin, losing his company (Yukos), and being sent to prison. China, like Russia, lacks the rule of law — an impartial set of rules enforced by neutral judges. Instead it has the rule of current and former Communist Party apparatchiks who manipulate the law to their own advantage. Admittedly the problem is more severe in Russia, but, as Huang Guangyu’s case demonstrates, it also exists in China. That makes both countries high-risk investment propositions and puts their futures in grave doubt.

The full impact of these weaknesses hasn’t yet been felt. Russia has been propped up by high commodity prices, in particular by high oil prices; China, by Western euphoria about its prospects, which has led to a lot of questionable foreign investments. But unless both countries can fundamentally reform their political systems (and odds are against them), I predict that their development will hit a brick wall before long — or if you prefer, a bamboo curtain.

To follow up on my earlier item, regarding barriers to China’s economic development: nothing makes the point more poignantly than news that China’s richest man has just been sentenced to 14 years in jail. Huang Guangyu has been accused of assorted corporate crimes, but few think he is another Bernie Madoff. More likely he is just another corner cutter engaging in the sort of routine practices, including bribery, that other Chinese tycoons engage in. The general view is that he simply wasn’t very skillful politically and got on the wrong side of some powerful faction within the ruling Communist Party.

In some ways his case is reminiscent of that of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who at one time was Russia’s richest man before clashing with the Kremlin, losing his company (Yukos), and being sent to prison. China, like Russia, lacks the rule of law — an impartial set of rules enforced by neutral judges. Instead it has the rule of current and former Communist Party apparatchiks who manipulate the law to their own advantage. Admittedly the problem is more severe in Russia, but, as Huang Guangyu’s case demonstrates, it also exists in China. That makes both countries high-risk investment propositions and puts their futures in grave doubt.

The full impact of these weaknesses hasn’t yet been felt. Russia has been propped up by high commodity prices, in particular by high oil prices; China, by Western euphoria about its prospects, which has led to a lot of questionable foreign investments. But unless both countries can fundamentally reform their political systems (and odds are against them), I predict that their development will hit a brick wall before long — or if you prefer, a bamboo curtain.

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Putin the Comedian

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

Move over, Borat. The hottest new voice in comedy is Vladimir Putin, otherwise known as the man who saved Russia from freedom and democracy. Putin convulsed his audience at the Munich Conference on Security with this sparkling one-liner: “Nobody feels secure any more, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law.”

International law has been likened to many things—gauze, cotton, clouds, tissue paper, vapor—but a “stone wall?” Where did Putin come up with this utterly original metaphor? Perhaps from the idealistic years of his youth, when he proved his devotion to making people secure by going to work for the Committee for State Security (KGB). In his proudest assignment, Putin found safety behind an actual stone wall in Berlin and helped millions of East Germans to enjoy that safety with him, even those flighty individuals who, if left to their own devices, might have preferred to be someplace less secure.

Putin is understandably peeved that the expansion of NATO has already diminished Russia’s security by depriving it of its historic freedom to invade its neighbors. Now, adding insult to injury, Washington is considering placing anti-missile systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. This would mean that Russia could not even fire rockets at these countries just to send them a message about, say, the advantages of buying more Russian gas at higher prices.

Putin has been forced to parry further assaults on Russia’s security, waged by American NGO’s that have set up operations inside Russia to promote democracy and human rights. “Russia is constantly being taught democracy,” he protested.

Is this how we repay Putin for all that he has done to enhance our security? He has furnished Iran with nuclear technology in order, so he explained, to make sure that Iran does not “feel cornered.” He has gone to great lengths to protect us from the likes of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Anna Politkovskaya, and Alexander Litvinenko. Above all, is this the reward that Putin deserves for having worked so hard to keep the world safe from Chechnya?

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