Putin: Lord of the Ring?
There's a famous picture of Josef Stalin hefting a two-handed broadsword. It was a gift from the British people in honor of the defense of Stalingrad. Made of the finest Sheffield steel, it was presented it to the Soviet dictator by Prime Minister Churchill at a famous summit conference in 1943. In motion pictures not shown at the time, Stalin nearly drops the famous gift.
Not so, Vladimir Putin. Putin never loses his grip on anything. In 2005, the Russian vozhd (boss) was admiring the Super Bowl ring of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. Kraft described his meeting in St. Petersburg the summer after his team won the classic football contest, Super Bowl XXXIX. In a Chris Strauss story in USA Today, the team owner told his side of the story.
Kraft explained the incident happened while Sandy Weill and other business execs were in St. Petersburg. "I took out the ring and showed it to [Putin], and he put it on and he goes, 'I can kill someone with this ring,' " Kraft told the crowd at Carnegie Hall's Medal of Excellence gala at the Waldorf-Astoria."I put my hand out and he put it in his pocket, and three KGB guys got around him and walked out."
Mr. Kraft later said that the Bush White House had asked him not to raise a fuss about
Putin's pocketing the Ring. If that is so, then it was a great mistake for U.S. policy.
Nothing can be worse in dealing with Russians than to give in to their tendency to bully.
In May, 1961, the young and inexperienced John F. Kennedy met Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev in Vienna. Kennedy later acknowledged that the blustering Khrushchev "beat the hell out of me."
That was dangerous. Later that summer, Khrushchev was emboldened to put up a wall around West Berlin. That Wall lasted for 28 years.
Khrushchev kept pressing, even daring to place Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles in Cuba. Only Kennedy's brilliantly executed counter-stroke -- his "quarantine" of Cuba and his unwavering demand that Khrushchev take his missiles out of Cuba -- saved the U.S. and the world from a devastating downward spiral.
Kennedy largely redeemed himself by boldly sending America to the Moon. Khrushchev had pointed to Soviet gains in space as proof that "we will bury you." Kennedy, by moving the goalposts, made the Moon the final test of the Space Race.
If the Bush White House actually counseled Patriots' owner Kraft to remain quiet about Putin's pilfering of the Ring, then we can understand why Putin was emboldened to seize a portion of the Georgian Republic in 2008.
Fast forward to 2013. We are now concerned about Edward Snowden. He is still holed up in Sheremetyevo Airport. Putin shows no sign of being ready to turn him over to us.
What became of the famous Hillary Clinton "re-set" of relations with Russia? In their first meeting in 2009, she gave the unsmiling Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, a dumb button. Like Staples' "That was Easy" button, Hillary's red button said "Re-set." Unlike Staples' motto, however, the Russian word was spelled wrong. And it wasn't even written in the Cyrillic alphabet that Russians use.
Hillary continued her feckless Russian record by making empty threats at a Paris meeting of "Friends of the Syrian people" in 2012. She blustered:
It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People, because I will tell you very frankly, I don't think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all - nothing at all - for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime. The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price, because they are holding up progress - blockading it - that is no longer tolerable.
Has Russia paid a price? Will Russia pay a price? Or is Vladimir Putin now the Lord of the Ring?
Ken Blackwell and Bob Morrison are senior fellows at the Family Research Council.