Our next president will likely face a Russia led by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, determined to stand up to a West that Russians believe played them for fools when they sought to be friends.
Americans who think Putin has never been anything but a KGB thug will reject accusations of any U.S. role in causing the ruination of relations between us.
Yet the hubris of Bill Clinton and George Bush I, and the Russophobia of those they brought with them into power, has been a primary cause of the ruptured relationship. And the folly of what they did is evident today, as Putin’s party, United Russia, rolls to triumph on a torrent of abuse and invective against the West.
Entering the campaign’s final week, Putin, addressing a rally of 5,000, ripped the Other Russia coalition led by chess champion Gary Kasparov as poodles of the United States, “who sponge off foreign embassies … and who count on the support of foreign resources and governments, and not of their own people.”
“Those who oppose us,” roared Putin, “don’t want our plans to be completed. They have completely different tasks and a completely different view of Russia. They need a weak, sick state, a disoriented, divided society, so that behind its back they can get up to their dirty deeds and profit at your and my expense.”
Putin is referring to the time of the “oligarchs” of the Yeltsin era, who looted Russia when its state assets were sold off at fire-sale prices.
Putin is also accusing his opponents of attempting to use the Western-devised tactics of mass street protests to bring down his government. “Now that they have learned some things from Western specialists and tried them in the neighboring republics, they are going to try them on our streets.”
Putin is talking here about the “color-coded” revolutions that the U.S. and NATO embassies, the National Endowment for Democracy, and allied foundations and front groups engineered in Ukraine and Georgia. Governments tilting toward Moscow were dumped over and pro-Western regimes installed — to bid for membership in NATO and the European Union.
Blowback is a term broadly used in espionage to describe the unintended consequences of covert operations. The revolution that brought the Ayatollah to power is said to be blowback for the U.S.-engineered coup to overthrow Mossadegh in 1953 and install the Shah.
The nationalism and anti-Americanism rife in Putin’s Russia is blowback for our contemptuous disregard of Russian sensibilities and our arrogant intrusions into Russia’s space. How did we lose a Russia that Ronald Reagan and Bush I had virtually converted into an ally?
We pushed NATO into Moscow’s face, bringing six ex-Warsaw Pact nations and three ex-Soviet republics — Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia — into our Cold War alliance and plotted to bring in Ukraine and Georgia.
We financed a pipeline from Baku through Georgia to the Black Sea to cut Russia out of the Caspian oil trade. After getting Moscow’s permission to use old Soviet bases in Central Asia to invade Afghanistan, we set about making the bases permanent. We pulled out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty over Moscow’s objection, then announced plans to plant ABM radars in the Czech Republic and anti-missile missiles in Poland.
Putin has now responded in kind, and who can blame him?
As we tried to cut him out of the Azerbaijan oil with a Black Sea pipeline, he is slashing subsidies on Ukraine’s oil and colluding with Germany on a Baltic Sea pipeline to cut Poland out of the oil trade with Western Europe.
As we moved our alliance and bases into his front and back yard, he has entered a quasi-alliance with China and four nations of Central Asia to expel U.S. military power from the region.
As we abandoned the ABM Treaty, the Duma, in November, voted 418 to 0 to suspend participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, which restricts the size of the Russian army west of the Urals.
If we recognize Kosovo as independent, at the expense of Serbia, Putin is now threatening to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the breakaway republics of Georgia and Transneistria, claimed by Moldova.
Where we backed the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Rose Revolution in Georgia, Russia backs its favorites in Kiev and supports street protests in Tbilisi against the pro-American regime of Mikhail Saakashvili, whom the United States now seems powerless to help.
It was not NATO that liberated Eastern Europe. Moscow did — by pulling out the Red Army after half a century. Why, then, did we think moving NATO into Eastern Europe was a surer guarantee of their continued independence than the goodwill of Russia?
Many among our foreign policy elite now talk of a Second Cold War. John McCain wants Russia kicked out of the G-8.
But do we not have enough enemies already that we should add the largest nation on earth?