Putin's Russia: Still an Empire, Still Evil
Last week was the thirtieth anniversary of Ronald Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech before the National Association of Evangelicals in Orlando Florida (on March 8, 1983). Today, Russia is just as evil, and has been governed for an extended period as the USSR never was by a proud KGB spy. But if you look to the current occupant of the White House for leadership in this continuing battle with evil, you look in vain.
In his famous speech, Reagan boldly declared of the Russians:
They preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth. They are the focus of evil in the modern world. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
Even if Barack Obama doesn't, the people of Russia and the members of the U.S. Congress know how little has changed since then. Congress has overwhelmingly passed the Magnitsky Act, which forbids from America's shores and resources the members of Putin's regime who arrested and murdered attorney Sergei Magnitsky in response to his fearless investigations of Putin's corruption.
Yury Melnichuk is a neo-Soviet defector. Voice of America has reported that the activist of the RPR Parnas Party demonstrated in support of the Magnitsky law by appearing outside the U.S. consulate-general in St. Petersburg and holding up a sign pleading: "Mr. Reagan, Come Back! The Evil Empire has been reborn!!!" Translator Paul Goble continues:
He told VOA that he didn't know much about Reagan's domestic policies, but "his foreign policy was in [his] view absolutely adequate to the situation. With a monster such as the USSR was, it was possible to speak only from a position of force." Unfortunately, he added, "Russia continues a policy of the Soviet model," but "the reaction of certain civilized countries of the West to what is happening with us in Russia does not entirely correspond to the real situation. This reaction is too soft and uncertain. Just as the Soviet Union was an 'evil empire,' so [today] Russian represents a threat to democracy and civilization in the entire world."
The evidence of the evil that is modern Russia is all around you, everywhere you look.
On the very day of the anniversary, Russia was carrying water for genocidal Syrian madman Bashar Assad, telling the world that he was "not bluffing" about remaining in power and refusing to add its voice to the world chorus demanding that he step down. Before that, Russia sided aggressively with homicidal autocrats in Egypt and Libya. Before that, Russian troops rolled into Georgia, Russian cyber-attacks besieged Estonia, and Russian energy blackmail benighted Ukraine.
Russia's intentional homicide rate is more than double that of the United States and nearly ten times that of the United Kingdom or Canada. It's on a par with places like Costa Rica and Liberia. But even hardened Russia cynics were surprised to see a homicidal frenzy break out among the ballerinas of Russia's leading cultural institution, the Bolshoi.
British long jumper Jade Johnson has denounced the decision to allow Russia to host the World Track & Field Championships, finding it outrageous that a country with such a shameful history of cheating should be accorded this honor.
When a young boy named Max Shatto who had been adopted from Russia died in Texas of natural causes, a hoard of America-haters in the Putin regime, frothing at the mouth, leaped gleefully forward before any evidence was in with defamatory charges of murder. Loathing for the United States, you see, is very much alive and well in Putin's Russia despite four years of Obama's "reset."
Then there was the stunning interview given by Russia's Central Bank chairman Sergey Ignatyev to Vedemosti, Russia's version of the Wall Street Journal, which was published on February 20 (Russian-language link), adorned with a massive photo of a blood-sucking spider at the center of its gigantic and ominous web.
In the one-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-screams department, a bar graph accompanying the piece is even more terrifying than that spider. It visualizes Ignatyev's data showing that dubious financial transmissions abroad have nearly doubled in Putin's Russia since 2006, now approaching a stunning $40 billion per year, and have increased substantially four years in a row.
Ignatyev reports that total capital outflows from Russia were nearly $60 billion last year, and that illegal transmissions amounted to almost $50 billion. And then he threw this in: «Создается впечатление, что все они контролируются одной хорошо организованной группой лиц.» Translated: "It appears that the main body of the transfers was controlled by a single well-organized group of people." Russia is simply gushing cash from its veins, and a single enormous vampire is gorging at the bloody trough.
As Stefan Wagstyl of the Financial Times notes, nobody in Russia could fail to take Ignatyev's hint: there is simply no way that a single group of actors could make off with such enormous sums without the knowledge, and indeed without the complicity, of very high-ranking figures in the Russia Kremlin, if not the highest.
Charles Clover of the FT goes farther: he points out that the issues Ignatyev is raising are the same issues Sergei Magnitsky was working on before he was illegally arrested by the Kremlin, tortured, and killed in prison. Clover quotes Igor Yurgens, a former adviser to Dmitry Medvedev, stating that if what Mr. Ignatyev said about a "single organized group" is true, "such an operation would not be possible without serious support from law enforcement."
Ignatyev didn't stop there. He went out of his way to draw attention to the fact that the budgetary cost to the Kremlin from fraudulent financial transfers is roughly the same as what it spends each year on education or health care -- roughly 2.5% of GDP. Reading between the lines, he's as much as accusing Vladimir Putin of making Russians sick and dumb so he can line his pockets. He found the courage to do so only upon announcing his retirement after many years in office.
If this is not a description of an evil empire, what is it? Putin's regime is currently engaged in a massive military buildup, including the development of a whole new range of nuclear forces. It is in the midst of an open war against American values, arresting political opponents and journalists, crushing the internet and spewing forth nothing but neo-Soviet propaganda on state-controlled TV.
And from Obama Putin faces no opposition. In fact, it often seems that if Obama believes there is an evil empire in this world, he sees it as ruled by the Republican Party.
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.