We would have more respect for Vladimir Putin if he simply dispensed with his country’s elections and declared himself president-for-life. This would spare us the idiotic burden of discussing the Russian state’s sexennial public-relations stunts. Everybody inside and outside the country knows the March 18 elections were rigged. Nonetheless news outlets around the world felt obliged to report that Putin received 76 percent of the vote—a marked increase from the 64 percent he received in 2012!
A dictator’s power comes from nowhere. It’s based on force, and only on force. Putin is not a monarch who rules by orderly succession; he has received no religious or divine sanction and certainly doesn’t rule by virtue of popular consent. He rules because his regime has power and the means to keep it. In the dictatorial worldview, there are only ruler and ruled. “The whole question is—who will defeat whom?” as Lenin observed. Or, as usually shortened: “Who, whom?”
But Putin knows it is far more effective, both in keeping domestic order and in international relations, to cover that severe reality with the soothing rhetoric of democracy. Hence the Russian elections. And hence all those totalitarian regimes calling themselves the “people’s republic” of this or that.
If we look beyond the trappings of Russian democracy, what we see is an increasingly aggressive bully. Putin’s regime has invaded or otherwise arrogated sovereign states; murdered and tried to murder its critics on foreign soil; flouted agreements around the globe; sabotaged the elections of free nations; carried out cyberwarfare against the U.S. government and its allies; and supplied some of the world’s most sinister dictatorships—from Venezuela to Syria to North Korea—with military aid and money.
Despite what Trump’s fiercest detractors claim, his administration has not been soft on Russia. It has imposed sanctions on an array of Russian tycoons and companies, including two Putin cronies. The State Department is supplying Ukraine with lethal weaponry to counter Russian incursions and sending antimissile systems to Poland—both contrary to the Kremlin’s wishes. In February, the U.S. military struck a convoy of Russia-backed mercenaries in Syria. And on March 15, the Treasury Department announced sanctions on the individuals and entities indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller’s grand jury; those indicted include Russia’s two intelligence agencies.
The president’s words, though, run counter to the actions of his administration. One could compile a long list of Trump’s favorable and even laudatory statements about the Kremlin autocrat. The most egregious of these rhetorical offenses came on March 20 when Trump congratulated Putin on his victory in a rigged election—this despite the fact that his briefing material for the call, according to reports, included the reminder “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.”
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders rationalized Trump’s congratulatory call with a bit of moral nonchalance. “We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” she said. “What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country, and that’s not something that we can dictate to them, how they operate. We can only focus on the freeness and fairness of our elections.” Trump didn’t focus on the “freeness and fairness” of our elections, either, neglecting to raise the issue of Russia’s interference in U.S. elections with Putin or its ongoing attempts to meddle in the 2018 election.
One could argue that the administration’s actions are what counts. But the president himself doesn’t believe that—if he did, he wouldn’t post defensive tweets every time he’s criticized for making nice with Putin; he would simply keep quiet and let Putin guess at his intentions. But Trump is not remaining quiet.
“I called President Putin of Russia to congratulate him on his election victory (in past, Obama called him also). The Fake News Media is crazed because they wanted me to excoriate him. They are wrong! Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” Trump tweeted on March 21. “They can help solve problems with North Korea, Syria, Ukraine, ISIS, Iran and even the coming Arms Race. Bush tried to get along, but didn’t have the ‘smarts.’ Obama and Clinton tried, but didn’t have the energy or chemistry (remember RESET). PEACE THROUGH STRENGTH!”
Russia could help solve many of these problems because Russia—by invading Ukraine, covering for Syria’s chemical-weapons attacks, blocking for Iran in the U.N. Security Council—has a great deal of responsibility for them. To hope publicly that Russia will play a constructive role resolving problems created by your appeasement of Putin is like proudly announcing your own foolishness.
But Trump is Trump, so we can assume that his rhetorical genuflections to Putin will continue. All the more reason then to counterbalance them with policy and action. There are many more individuals and entities the Treasury Department can sanction. Oligarchs associated with Russia’s defense ministry, and particularly those with connections to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and the war effort in eastern Ukraine, deserve a high place on the list of sanction targets.
Other, less conventional responses suggest themselves, too. The United States and its European allies might consider pressuring FIFA, the international soccer association that puts on the World Cup, to move this summer’s event from Russia. The British foreign minister (who we are confident cares far more about soccer than the average American) has remarked that Putin will use the 2018 World Cup the way Hitler used the 1936 Olympics. He’s right. Action should accompany such a view.
More is at stake here than international virtue-signaling. By meting out punishments to the Putin regime and to the dictator’s friends and allies, the United States can weaken his position within his country. Some of Putin’s wealthy backers, as Garry Kasparov argued in these pages recently, may deem sanctions too costly and flee the country altogether. Putin’s opponents may gain more and bolder followers as the dictator’s reckless power plays lead the country into isolation.
It’s not a question of avoiding confrontation with Vladimir Putin. He has sought confrontation repeatedly. And so far, he’s mostly gotten his way. Behind those blue expressionless eyes, he’s smiling.
Source : http://www.weeklystandard.com/what-to-do-about-putin/article/2012048