Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Robert Gates: Be More Forceful Against Putin


Robert Gates: Be More Forceful Against Putin

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates explains to Mary Kissel why the U.S. should be more forceful against Russian president Vladimir Putin. Also, the danger of playing politics with aid to Ukraine. Plus, Malaysia's human-rights record. Photo: Getty

Robert Gates: Putin's Challenge to the West

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March 25, 2014 6:52 p.m. ET
Russian President Vladimir Putin has a long-festering grudge: He deeply resents the West for winning the Cold War. He blames the United States in particular for the collapse of his beloved Soviet Union, an event he has called the "worst geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."
His list of grievances is long and was on full display in his March 18 speech announcing the annexation of Crimea by Russia. He is bitter about what he sees as Russia's humiliations in the 1990s—economic collapse; the expansion of NATO to include members of the U.S.S.R.'s own "alliance," the Warsaw Pact; Russia's agreement to the treaty limiting conventional forces in Europe, or as he calls it, "the colonial treaty"; the West's perceived dismissal of Russian interests in Serbia and elsewhere; attempts to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO and the European Union; and Western governments, businessmen and scholars all telling Russia how to conduct its affairs at home and abroad.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Getty Images
Mr. Putin aspires to restore Russia's global power and influence and to bring the now-independent states that were once part of the Soviet Union back into Moscow's orbit. While he has no apparent desire to recreate the Soviet Union (which would include responsibility for a number of economic basket cases), he is determined to create a Russian sphere of influence—political, economic and security—and dominance. There is no grand plan or strategy to do this, just opportunistic and ruthless aspiration. And patience.
Mr. Putin, who began his third, nonconsecutive presidential term in 2012, is playing a long game. He can afford to: Under the Russian Constitution, he could legally remain president until 2024. After the internal chaos of the 1990s, he has ruthlessly restored "order" to Russia, oblivious to protests at home and abroad over his repression of nascent Russian democracy and political freedoms.
In recent years, he has turned his authoritarian eyes on the "near-abroad." In 2008, the West did little as he invaded Georgia, and Russian troops still occupy the Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. He has forced Armenia to break off its agreements with the European Union, and Moldova is under similar pressure.

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Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates says Western leaders need a strategy to contain and isolate Russia economically and militarily. Photo credit: Getty Images.
Last November, through economic leverage and political muscle, he forced then-President Viktor Yanukovych to abort a Ukrainian agreement with the EU that would have drawn it toward the West. When Mr. Yanukovych, his minion, was ousted as a result, Mr. Putin seized Crimea and is now making ominous claims and military movements regarding all of eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine is central to Mr. Putin's vision of a pro-Russian bloc, partly because of its size and importantly because of Kiev's role as the birthplace of the Russian Empire more than a thousand years ago. He will not be satisfied or rest until a pro-Russian government is restored in Kiev.
He also has a dramatically different worldview than the leaders of Europe and the U.S. He does not share Western leaders' reverence for international law, the sanctity of borders, which Westerners' believe should only be changed through negotiation, due process and rule of law. He has no concern for human and political rights. Above all, Mr. Putin clings to a zero-sum worldview. Contrary to the West's belief in the importance of win-win relationships among nations, for Mr. Putin every transaction is win-lose; when one party benefits, the other must lose. For him, attaining, keeping and amassing power is the name of the game.
The only way to counter Mr. Putin's aspirations on Russia's periphery is for the West also to play a strategic long game. That means to take actions that unambiguously demonstrate to Russians that his worldview and goals—and his means of achieving them—over time will dramatically weaken and isolate Russia.
Europe's reliance on Russian oil and gas must be reduced, and truly meaningful economic sanctions must be imposed, knowing there may be costs to the West as well. NATO allies bordering Russia must be militarily strengthened and reinforced with alliance forces; and the economic and cyber vulnerabilities of the Baltic states to Russian actions must be reduced (especially given the number of Russians and Russian-speakers in Estonia and Latvia).
Western investment in Russia should be curtailed; Russia should be expelled from the G-8 and other forums that offer respect and legitimacy; the U.S. defense budget should be restored to the level proposed in the Obama administration's 2014 budget a year ago, and the Pentagon directed to cut overhead drastically, with saved dollars going to enhanced capabilities, such as additional Navy ships; U.S. military withdrawals from Europe should be halted; and the EU should be urged to grant associate agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine.
So far, however, the Western response has been anemic. Mr. Putin is little influenced by seizure of personal assets of his cronies or the oligarchs, or restrictions on their travel. Unilateral U.S. sanctions, save on Russian banks, will not be effective absent European cooperation. The gap between Western rhetoric and Western actions in response to out-and-out aggression is a yawning chasm. The message seems to be that if Mr. Putin doesn't move troops into eastern Ukraine, the West will impose no further sanctions or costs. De facto, Russia's seizure of Crimea will stand and, except for a handful of Russian officials, business will go on as usual.
No one wants a new Cold War, much less a military confrontation. We want Russia to be a partner, but that is now self-evidently not possible under Mr. Putin's leadership. He has thrown down a gauntlet that is not limited to Crimea or even Ukraine. His actions challenge the entire post-Cold War order including, above all, the right of independent states to align themselves and do business with whomever they choose.
Tacit acceptance of settling old revanchist scores by force is a formula for ongoing crises and potential armed conflict, whether in Europe, Asia or elsewhere. A China behaving with increasing aggressiveness in the East and South China seas, an Iran with nuclear aspirations and interventionist policies in the Middle East, and a volatile and unpredictable North Korea are all watching events in Europe. They have witnessed the fecklessness of the West in Syria. Similar division and weakness in responding to Russia's most recent aggression will, I fear, have dangerous consequences down the road.
Mr. Putin's challenge comes at a most unpropitious time for the West. Europe faces a weak economic recovery and significant economic ties with Russia. The U.S. is emerging from more than a dozen years at war and leaders in both parties face growing isolationism among voters, with the prospect of another major challenge abroad cutting across the current political grain. Crimea and Ukraine are far away, and their importance to Europe and America little understood by the public.
Therefore, the burden of explaining the need to act forcefully falls, as always, on our leaders. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "Government includes the act of formulating a policy" and "persuading, leading, sacrificing, teaching always, because the greatest duty of a statesman is to educate." The aggressive, arrogant actions of Vladimir Putin require from Western leaders strategic thinking, bold leadership and steely resolve—now.
Mr. Gates served as secretary of defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obamafrom 2006-11, and as director of central intelligence under President George H.W. Bush from 1991-93.
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Obama’s disapproval rating hits a new high

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Carolyn Kaster/AP
Carolyn Kaster/AP
Negative views of President Obama have hit a new high, according to a poll.
The AP-GfK poll shows 59 percent of Americans now disapprove of Obama -- a point higher than the previous high set in December.
Obama's approval rating stands at 41 percent. That's the second-lowest figure the poll has ever found.
Part of Obama's problems appear to be related to foreign policy: The poll shows Americans disapprove of his handling of the situation in Ukraine 57-40 and disapprove of how he handles relationships with other countries 58-40.
In January, Americans were evenly split on Obama's diplomacy skills.
The poll was conducted Thursday through Sunday.

Putin and Putinism

Putin and Putinism

Putin as a person and as a politician and his political system of "Putinism"

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08/08/14 19:49 from Putin and Putinism - News Review

Putin and Putinism

Richard Cohen: One can be the deadliest number

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This is the way Simon Kuper began his Financial Times piece on what happened in Sarajevo 100 years ago on June 28, the beginning of World War I. The article is about many things, the city of Sarajevo, the doomed archduke and his morganatic bride, Sophie — virtually shunned at court on account of her low rank — but most of all Princip, the Serb nationalist, who started the conflagration with a mere pistol. There were many causes of that war — an entire bookshelf’s worth in my office alone — but the fact remains that if Princip had hesitated, if he had missed, if he had not wandered to seek a sandwich at Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen when Franz Ferdinand’s driver had taken the wrong turn, the Great War might not have happened.
And neither would have the swift collapse of four empires, the arbitrary creation of the modern Middle East, Germany’s hyperinflation, the rise of fascism, Hitler and, of course, World War II, the Holocaust, Soviet expansionism, the Cold War and so much more. The very first domino was toppled by a single man, a tubercular who was to die before the war he started had ended. The lone assassin had changed history.
He had struck before and many times since. He killed Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield and William McKinley, John F. Kennedy and his younger brother Robert, Yitzhak Rabin (and the chance for an Arab- Israeli peace), Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. One man, one weapon, and history pivoted.
This is why the study of Vladimir Putin is so important. Russian nationalism is an indigenous force, and Russian grievance is somewhat the same. But another leader may not have fanned either one. A non-Putin, in fact, may not have felt either emotion so intensely. Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and now the prime minister, probably would not have seized Crimea. Nothing about him suggests otherwise. He is no Putin.
But Putin is. The tautology has become plain. The reformer has become the uber nationalist and expansionist. He has an edge to him, a menace. He plays a losing hand, but he plays it well because while he is weak, his opponents are weaker. They vacillate. They dillydally. They fear confrontation. In fact, they abhor it. Putin knows what he wants. He will take what the West allows.
We hear now from observers of Putin, people who knew him over the years. We search for clues to his character, his tics, his weaknesses. The accounts are not encouraging. We learn he can lie. We learn he can be inscrutable. We find nothing about heavy drinking, rampant womanizing — excesses, addictions, vile bigotries. He is a good student. Strobe Talbott, a deputy secretary of state in the Clinton administration, wrote in The Post about meeting Putin in Moscow: “For no reason other than to show he had read my KGB dossier, he dropped the names of two Russian poets I had studied in college.” Impressive. I have heard similar stories about Putin. George Smiley is in the Kremlin now.
In 1943, the philosopher Sidney Hook published “The Hero in History.” Hook was a former communist moving at warp speed toward what we now would call neoconservatism. His book was a riposte to determinism; Nikita Khrushchev embodied it in 1956 when he told Western ambassadors in Moscow, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side.” (The American version of this is “the wrong side of history” formulation — as if history has a purpose or a conscience.) Hook knew better. Men are not merely swept away by movements, they create movements. Heroes matter. Great men matter. So do evil ones.
The 20th century settled the question of whether one man can alter history. Of course he can. Hitler did. Stalin did. Churchill put steel in Britain’s backbone, and Roosevelt saved the snarling American free-enterprise system by house-breaking it. Gavrilo Princip had his moment too. On a day almost 100 years ago, he got off two shots, swiftly killing two people and, before the century had ended, probably 100 million more.
Read more from Richard Cohen’s archive.

Putin Newsreel

New York Times
For 15 years, Vladimir V. Putin has confounded American presidents as they tried to figure him out, only to misjudge him time and again. He has defied their assumptions and rebuffed their efforts at friendship. He has argued with them, lectured them ...
New York Times
THE HAGUE — President Obama and the leaders of the biggest Western economies agreed on Monday to exclude President Vladimir V. Putin from the Group of 8, suspending his government's 15-year participation in the diplomatic forum and further isolating ...
The Atlantic
Ever since Vladimir Putin invaded Crimea, American pundits have strained to understand his view of the world. Putin's been called a Nazi; a tsar; a man detached from reality. But there's another, more familiar framework that explains his behavior.
New York Times
The decision by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia to annex Crimea ended the post-Cold War era in Europe. Since the late Gorbachev-Reagan years, the era was defined by zigzags of cooperation and disputes between Russia and the West, but always ...
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Putinism NewsReel

Barack Obama is hitting Vladimir Putin where it hurts – his inner circle. New U.S. sanctions against a Russian bank and a host of tycoons are ostensibly just an escalated response to the annexation of Crimea. But they also allege a link between the ...
Kyiv Post
Jay Tkachuk: The demise of Putinism. Print version. March 21, 2014, 7:44 p.m. | Op-ed — by Jay Tkachuk. : Russia's President Vladimir Putin signs a law on ratification of a treaty making Crimea part of Russia, during a ceremony in the Kremlin in ...
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This strange mutual admiration society has arguably reached new heights in recent weeks with the largely successful Sochi Olympic games in which Putin emerged stronger than ever and the rise of a new wave of Putinist anti-gay proposals in the U.S. and ...
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An ad man who used to work for Mikhail Khodorkovsky in the go-go '90s, Surkov is the chief architect of Putinism. He reduced the elimination of democracy, civil society, and a free press to a handful of cynically named "technologies." (Given Russia's ...
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    Russian human rights activists andopposition politicians have reacted sharply to a Moscow legislators' suggestion to ban all rallies and public protests in the city center. At the Wednesday session of the Moscow City Duma lawmaker Mikhail ...
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    “Anger at Putin hasn't boiled over yet inRussia,” said Dmitry Oreshkin, an independent political analyst with ties to theopposition. “For most Russians, especially outside of Moscow, Putin remains a legitimate president. Yanukovych was on much ...
    Indeed, the members of the G-7, one nation down as Russia has been removed, are all united in their opposition to Putin's push into Ukraine. In an interview with the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant published before Obama arrived Monday, Obama said that ...
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        Council on Foreign Relations on Russia

        Deutsche Welle
        This policy changed in 2010 with the pro-Russian presidency of Viktor Yanukovych. DW spoke to Stefan Meister of the EuropeanCouncil on Foreign Relations about relations between NATO and Russia. DW: How much has the enlargement of NATO ...
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        Russian President Vladimir Putin's actions in response to the Ukraine crisis, including the seizure of territory of a neighboring state, serves as a "game changer" in internationalrelations with Russia, says Strobe Talbott, a former deputy Secretary ...
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        The Presidents of Ukraine, RussianFederation and United States of America, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom signed three memorandums (UN Document A/49/765) on December 5, 1994, with the accession of Ukraine to the Treaty on the ...The ...
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        Meanwhile, the summit offers Obama the opportunity to maintain relations with foreignleaders: he is slated to meet with Chinese president Xi Jinping on Monday, and on Tuesday with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean president Park Geun ...
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        [or The Portrait of one "Schizo-Oppositional-Pussy-Put" - M.N.]

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        Confronting Putin’s Russia