Commentary Magazine


Topic: Valdimir Putin

Russian Paratroopers Confirmed Killed in Ukraine

It is well-documented now how Russians have been living in a bubble with regard to news coverage of what has been going on in (and over) Ukraine. In the Russian narrative, the Ukrainians are all aggressive fascists and neo-Nazis seeking to victimize ethnic Russians, and while Russian humanitarian relief is heading into Ukraine, the idea that Russian forces are fighting there is nothing but nonsense.

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It is well-documented now how Russians have been living in a bubble with regard to news coverage of what has been going on in (and over) Ukraine. In the Russian narrative, the Ukrainians are all aggressive fascists and neo-Nazis seeking to victimize ethnic Russians, and while Russian humanitarian relief is heading into Ukraine, the idea that Russian forces are fighting there is nothing but nonsense.

Now, fortunately, that bubble is bursting. First there were the soldier selfies. Now journalists in the Russian city of Pskov have confirmed the deaths of Russian paratroopers inside Ukraine, tracking the names of Russians that Ukrainian officials had said were killed and then found their graves in Pskov. The broader Russian media is beginning to pick up on the story. More in English here (scroll down).

Russian President Vladimir Putin played both President Bush and the Obama administration. While they sought to believe that Putin was a reasonable, responsible partner, they never recognized that he had never shed his KGB worldview and remained dedicated all along to the dual goals of defeating America on the global stage while reconstructing the Soviet Union, in effect if not in reality. He has sacrificed the Russian economy in the process, and moved to insulate the Russian public from what he has done. In this, he has been like his Soviet predecessors who lied to the home population about what was really happening in Afghanistan and then in Chechnya. Let us hope that the Russians don’t take so long to realize their leader is playing them for fools once again. The question is how many Russians will die needlessly before Russian mothers recognize that Putin is sacrificing their sons for his own dishonest purposes.

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Putin Spikes the Football

More than 100,000 dead in Syria—a figure growing by 5,000 or so deaths every month. Millions more displaced. Chemical weapons used. Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah on the offensive. The United States humiliated and powerless on the sidelines. The situation in Syria is about as grim as you can imagine—and Vladimir Putin is loving every minute of it. That impression comes across very strongly in his New York Times op-ed today in which he takes a typically brazen victory lap after having wrestled global leadership, at least temporarily, away from a confused and hesitant American president.

As usual with Putin, he overdoes it—the man who parades around bare-chested to show off his pecs does not know the meaning of “subtlety.” Putin begins by claiming that only the UN Security Council can authorize the use of military force. Funny, I don’t remember the UN resolutions justifying Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008 or his homicidal campaign in Chechnya which has killed tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.

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More than 100,000 dead in Syria—a figure growing by 5,000 or so deaths every month. Millions more displaced. Chemical weapons used. Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah on the offensive. The United States humiliated and powerless on the sidelines. The situation in Syria is about as grim as you can imagine—and Vladimir Putin is loving every minute of it. That impression comes across very strongly in his New York Times op-ed today in which he takes a typically brazen victory lap after having wrestled global leadership, at least temporarily, away from a confused and hesitant American president.

As usual with Putin, he overdoes it—the man who parades around bare-chested to show off his pecs does not know the meaning of “subtlety.” Putin begins by claiming that only the UN Security Council can authorize the use of military force. Funny, I don’t remember the UN resolutions justifying Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008 or his homicidal campaign in Chechnya which has killed tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands.

He warns specifically that a U.S. strike on Syria “could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa.” No doubt Russian arms deliveries to Syria and Iran—including Russian help with Iran’s nuclear program and the rumored sale of a sophisticated air-defense system to Tehran—have been big factors in enhancing Middle Eastern stability.

Putin, moreover, claims: “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law. We need to use the United Nations Security Council and believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos.” Uh, right: That’s why the Russian government is not willing to go along with a UN Security Council resolution threatening Assad with force for failing to disarm—it’s not because Russia is Assad’s ally, it’s because of Putin’s boundless respect for international law! There is, of course, no mention of Assad’s many violations of international law in his war against his own people.

Putin slides from the ridiculous to the comic when he next claims: “No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists.” Actually, I think it’s safe to say that Putin and his minions are the only people who claim to believe that sarin was used by the rebels, not the government—and even the Russians can’t possibly believe that: it’s another convenient lie.

As if to rub salt into the wound, Putin ends with a pious denunciation of Americans who might claim that our country is exceptional: “It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Sure, there are countries such as Russia where the unelected leaders oppress their own people and jail anyone who speaks out against them; then there are countries such as the United States where liberal democratic norms prevail, human rights are respected, and the rule of law is followed. But in Putin’s upside-down moral universe there is no difference between the two—in his relativist telling, they are simply differently democratic.

There is nothing especially surprising about the cynical worldview of this old KGB apparatchik. The only thing dismaying is that President Obama, through his failure of leadership, has allowed this malevolent troublemaker to usurp America’s leadership role in the Middle East and indeed the world. And Putin isn’t about to let us forget it.

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Clinton Scolded, Russia and Iran Gloat

While Hillary Clinton congratulates herself for the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, she is, for now, on the receiving end of what one might genuinely call an affront. It seems that Vladimir Putin read her the riot act  — in front of the onlooking news corps. Oh, yes. ABC News reports:

When reporters traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow were informed that a last-minute meeting with Russia’s Prime Minister Valdimir Putin had been added to the schedule, they were told they would only get to see a few seconds of handshakes before being ushered out.

Instead, with cameras rolling, they watched Putin spend six minutes rattling off a number of complaints he has with the United States.

He barked about trade and scolded her about the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment. “Reporters were surprised at the length of Putin’s list of issues and the fact that he did it in front of the Russian and American press corps, a pool reporter noted.” In other words, Putin went out of the way to bully the U.S. Secretary of State in public. Just to show who is boss? And this follows the announcement that, instead of cooperating to isolate Iran, Russia will build a nuclear power plant for the mullahs — an announcement issued to “greet” Hillary.

In short, the Russians have now shown us what resetting the U.S.-Russian relationship means. Putin has figured out that there is no risk — so long as you aren’t a small democratic ally of the U.S. — of incurring the wrath of the Obami. No condemnations or even frowns will be forthcoming. This is, you see, what comes from throwing ourselves at our adversaries’ feet and scorning our allies. Adversaries learn to take advantage of us while friends learn not to trust us.

And where does that leave our Iran policy? No prospect of international sanctions. The U.S. sanctions bill is languishing in Congress. The mullahs feel neither isolated nor besieged. It is not they whom the Obami are pressuring this week. We eagerly await Hillary’s Monday speech to AIPAC when she can explain the wizardry at work here. We’ll be all ears.

While Hillary Clinton congratulates herself for the state of U.S.-Israeli relations, she is, for now, on the receiving end of what one might genuinely call an affront. It seems that Vladimir Putin read her the riot act  — in front of the onlooking news corps. Oh, yes. ABC News reports:

When reporters traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Moscow were informed that a last-minute meeting with Russia’s Prime Minister Valdimir Putin had been added to the schedule, they were told they would only get to see a few seconds of handshakes before being ushered out.

Instead, with cameras rolling, they watched Putin spend six minutes rattling off a number of complaints he has with the United States.

He barked about trade and scolded her about the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment. “Reporters were surprised at the length of Putin’s list of issues and the fact that he did it in front of the Russian and American press corps, a pool reporter noted.” In other words, Putin went out of the way to bully the U.S. Secretary of State in public. Just to show who is boss? And this follows the announcement that, instead of cooperating to isolate Iran, Russia will build a nuclear power plant for the mullahs — an announcement issued to “greet” Hillary.

In short, the Russians have now shown us what resetting the U.S.-Russian relationship means. Putin has figured out that there is no risk — so long as you aren’t a small democratic ally of the U.S. — of incurring the wrath of the Obami. No condemnations or even frowns will be forthcoming. This is, you see, what comes from throwing ourselves at our adversaries’ feet and scorning our allies. Adversaries learn to take advantage of us while friends learn not to trust us.

And where does that leave our Iran policy? No prospect of international sanctions. The U.S. sanctions bill is languishing in Congress. The mullahs feel neither isolated nor besieged. It is not they whom the Obami are pressuring this week. We eagerly await Hillary’s Monday speech to AIPAC when she can explain the wizardry at work here. We’ll be all ears.

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