Putin as the New Gorbachev
There is an odd, nostalgic fixation on Mother Russia within the "foreign policy community." It's as if an overwhelming desire to return to the last days of the superpower standoff with an enlightened Mikhail Gorbachev at the helm of the Soviet Union has consumed all rational thought. Or maybe they just hate Bush so much that they are willing to do anything to derail efforts to establish democracy in rogue states, even if it means undermining a proven national security tactic touted by these very same foreign policy experts.
The recurring theme surrounding this year's G—8 summit, was that those who have opposed the administration's foreign policies and the Iraq War in particular, have finally found a world leader to be the new poster boy to represent the disloyal opposition; and that man is Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In this view, Putin's new mission in life is to show the world that the President just can't run around and stupidly promote democracy among the unwashed masses. And just as with Gorbachev, Putin is lionized by the punditry as the leader who will fix this terrible mess that W has gotten us into, and he must therefore be granted a wide berth to work his magic.
There is no problem finding examples of pro—Putin cheerleading from the left. All a Bush critic has to do is mouth the slogan that whatever democratic revolution may have taken place in a former state of the USSR, it is now kaput thanks to the unrealistic vision of the US President. The elected leaders of several of these now—free nations have dared to defend their established borders and have moved quickly (sign—in required) to eliminate corruption and boost the economy. This is a sacrilege in the eyes of the pro—Putin crowd.
Clifford Kupchan, writing in the Los Angeles Times, tells the administration to 'stop bashing Putin' because he's just pursuing his national interests (who doesn't?) and he's trying to 'compete with the West for political and economic advantage.' In reality, this simply is taking the side of an adversary in an international bargaining face—off.
Russia's nuclear deals with the Persian mullahs even get a pass. Kupchan, a supposedly learned director of a political risk consulting firm, refers to Putin's role in the Iran—Russia Nuclear Pact , which covertly skirts the Nuclear Non—proliferation Treaty, as playing a 'pivotal and independent role' in the crisis. This statement would be laughable, if it weren't such an obvious case of backing an ex—KGB agent who just happens to be opposing President Bush's global anti—terror strategy.
But there are also Putin backers on the right, and they aren't too well informed, either. Pat Buchanan lists a series of complaints against the new Russia, which he admits are valid. But then he opines that 'pushing' the new democracies of Eastern Europe, the Baltic nations, and other former Soviet states into NATO is
...the political equivalent of Great Britain —— had the United States come apart in the Civil War —— making Virginia, South Carolina and Texas dominions of the British Empire.
Uh, no Pat it isn't. The last time I checked, Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas weren't invaded and forcibly annexed by the Union prior to the Civil War, as several sovereign entities were gobbled up by Imperial Russia and its successor, the communist Soviet Union. This pathetic analogy belies a desperate attempt to generate an imagined noble adversary to the American President, even if Buchanan has to fabricate a ridiculous comparison.
The Bush critics mask the true background of the Russian President, because being truthful would expose their fondness for a recalcitrant centralizer hell—bent on a policy of resource nationalism. The secret to understanding Putin is that he is not only a leader who is maneuvering for geo—political advantage in the best interests of his country, but he is also undermining the US and the Coalition by maintaining Cold War corrupt business arrangements and lucrative cash cows.
Contemporary biographical sketches generally mention that Putin was a KGB operative, but provide no details. Putin was assigned to the Group of Soviet Forces Germany (GSFG) in East Germany and his number one mission was to buy, borrow, and steal as much Western technology as possible. Once the gear was acquired it would be sent back to the USSR for examination and possible reverse engineering. Since East Germany was on the frontlines with NATO, Putin had access to some the most advanced gear the West had to offer, and the willing cooperation of some of the over 8,000 low—level co—opted citizens in West Germany, including business owners.
His techniques were the envy of anyone trying to circumvent export security restrictions. Putin constructed a network of front companies to buy and ship high tech equipment to the East under the noses of Western regulators and customs officials. His business acumen was such that he even acquired legitimate companies to have a ready—made purchasing and shipping network to grease the skids in his covert venture. Good old fashioned theft was used only as a last resort.
Once the Berlin Wall fell, Putin's network didn't just disappear. One can imagine the connections that still exist and the profits that accumulate in Putin's post—Cold War world. In just one example, the huge Russian gas company Gazprom hired former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to use his influence to seal energy deals with Europe. And not coincidentally, the chief executive of the pipeline consortium was a former operative in the East German secret police and was friends with Putin during his KGB days.
Information gleaned from documents seized since Saddam's ouster show that Russian and European opposition to the Iraq War was due to their fight to maintain the Russia—France—Iraq financial nexus. From Putin's standpoint, opposing the formation of democracies on the edges of the Former Soviet Union isn't primarily about EU and NATO encroachment, so much as challenging the US in our attempt to cut the lines of commerce to terror—supporting states.
The attempt at covering Putin with a cloak of moral superiority is no different than trying to portray Gorbachev as the enlightened one who led the world out of the clutches of Cold War brinkmanship, rather than the one who desperately tried to defend the last vestiges of the Soviet Empire. Instead of telling Bush to stop bashing Putin, these foreign policy experts would be better served by returning to the drawing board and asking if the Soviet Union ever really went away at all.
Douglas Hanson is the national security correspondent of The American Thinker.