Putin vs. the Arctic Sunrise
Following the pattern established by the USSR, the despotic regime of proud KGB spy Vladimir Putin has declared war on every aspect of society that does not conform to Putin's bland, homogenized orthodoxy. Homosexuals, artists, opposition political leaders, and environmentalists have all been jailed following disgraceful neo-Soviet show trials designed to purge Russia of the last vestiges of creativity, innovation, and dissent. Perhaps for that reason it is unsurprising that the nation's economy stands on the precipice of a double-dip recession. The nation's own prime minister has warned his country is reentering the gloomy atmosphere of neo-Soviet stagnation.
And Putin is by no means limiting himself to jailing his own countrymen. Now he's jailing Americans too.
In the rolling South Pacific about 500 miles west of the Pitcairn Islands, where the infamous HMS Bounty mutineers took refuge, lies the uninhabited French atoll of Moruroa. For two decades starting in 1966, the French government carried out extensive nuclear weapons testing there. The testing was halted in the summer of 1985 due to the efforts of Greenpeace.
That summer, the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior made port in New Zealand, the closest major nation to Moruroa, intending to continue on to the atoll and interrupt the latest round of French testing (or be incinerated in it). On July 10, 1985, seeking to block the protest and assure the testing would be completed, a team of French spies bombed the Rainbow Warrior at the dock in Auckland and sent it to the briny deep. In so doing, they murdered a Dutch photographer who was on board to document the planned protest action, and committed an act of war against New Zealand.
At first the French government cravenly denied involvement, but ultimately it was forced to admit the plot and to incur international ignominy. Abashed by shame, France halted nuclear testing at Moruroa. Though paying a steep price, Greenpeace had won.
When it went to the bottom in Auckland, the Rainbow Warrior was captained by a then 32-year-old American from Connecticut named Peter Willcox. Last week, Willcox was at the helm of another Greenpeace vessel, the Arctic Sunrise, when it was illegally boarded in international waters and seized by the Russian government. Willcox, along with his entire crew, was arrested and is now in a Russian prison awaiting trial on charges that may include piracy.
On September 19th, a flotilla of Greenpeace's famous motorized rubber boats had left the Arctic Sunrise and headed out towards a massive oil drilling rig operated by Russia's natural gas monopoly, Gazprom, in the Pechora Sea. Russian forces arrested the activists, who sought to conduct protest activity on and around the rig, and the next day they boarded the Arctic Sunrise, arrested all those on board, seized the ship and sailed it to the Russian port of Murmansk. Willcox and his crew were jailed, and were refused bail. They'll rot in Russian prison until the government figures out whether it can make piracy charges against them stick.
Since the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior, action of this kind against Greenpeace by a national government has been unheard of. Putin's reckless action smacks of barbarism, the same kind of barbarism that forced Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of the art collective Pussy Riot to resort to a hunger strike to protest the torturous conditions under which she had been jailed after making a peaceful protest against Putin in a Russian cathedral. The same kind that, heedless of international scorn, motivated Putin to invade his tiny neighbor Georgia in 2008, and the same kind that induced him to arrest his leading political rivals, like Alexei Navalny and Mikhail Khodorkovsky, rather than face them a fair election campaign.
But if you thought the Obama administration, and its ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, would rally behind Willcox and demand his release, at least on bail pending trial, you were very much mistaken. The craven silence issuing from Obama and McFaul over Willcox has been deafening, and it is perhaps the lowest moment in the sordid history of the Obama government. Leaving an American citizen, illegally kidnapped, to fend for himself against the ravages of the corrupt and malignant Putin regime is an act so ignominious that it makes the French attack on the Rainbow Warrior look like an act of heroism.
Citizens of many other countries were arrested by the Russians along with Willcox. Comparing Obama's response to that of Australia is downright embarrassing for Americans. Australian consular officials were there to meet the Arctic Sunrise when it made port in Murmansk, Russia, and have followed up every step of the way with their nationals, updating the country on the progress they are making as well.
Is Obama really prepared to let Captain Willcox rot in a Russian prison, to abandon all his supposed principles relating to diversity and tolerance, just so that he won't incur the wrath of Putin? Is Obama's sham "reset" policy really more important than American lives?
Putin's attack on Willcox is only the latest in a long string of openly hostile, bellicose moves that Putin has made against the U.S. He gave asylum to accused traitor Edward Snowden. He stood steadfast behind dictator after anti-U.S. dictator all across the Middle East, even giving support to the bloodcurdling America haters of Hizb'allah. He went so far as to attack Americans in their own newspaper of record, the New York Times.
And Obama's cowardly retreat isn't only on the Willcox arrest. Writing in the Washington Post, for example, Carl Gershman, head of the National Endowment for Democracy, calls Obama on the carpet for his failure to oppose Putin's drive to recreate the USSR. Russia is aggressively seeking to block the nations of the former USSR from joining the European Union, and has been essentially waging economic war on countries like Ukraine, Georgia, and Armenia to keep them away from an EU alliance that could break their vassal-like relationship to Russia.
Democrats ought to be just as appalled by Obama as Republicans. Obama is running away from every principle of diversity and tolerance as fast as his legs will carry him, and is fleeing just as fast from every American value of freedom and democracy. If he's prepared to let an American rot in a Russian prison today, what horrors might tomorrow bring?
Follow Kim Zigfeld on Twitter @larussophobe.