Monday, December 03, 2007

Putin - Naughty Or Nice?

By Cernig

I think this, from AJ Strata, is satire.
Want to know why Russia and the West is at odds? The West is pretty damn insulting towards Russia right now and it is OUR actions which are causing the rifts. Vladimir Putin’s party just won 70% of Parliament. This is not even close and an outcome like this cannot be rigged unless you have armed guards threatening voters at the booths (e.g.,Saddam Hussein’s rigged elections). Putins foes have chased the electorate into Putin’s open arms due to their wild and unsubstantiated accusations, then they claim foul as if they cannot face up to their own mistakes.
I mean, AJ coudn't possibly have missed the widespread reports in non-American mainstream media outlets about voters being told to vote for Putin's party or lose their jobs, could he? (Such a simple tactic - why didn't Chavez think of it?) As a result Russia is now, as Gary Kasparov describes it, "a soft version of one-party dictatorship" and any words of condemnation out of the Bush administration have been, Larisa notes, very lukewarm. One would almost think they are quietly envious.

I'm going to say AJ's post must be satirical - and as such it raises what at first glance looks like a valid criticism of left-of-center punditry. Many of us have indeed argued that the West could do with being less confrontational with Russia in such areas as the U.S. missile defense shield or Western plans for new generations of hi-tech weaponry and nuclear-tipped missiles. Yet if Russia is indeed a soft dictatorship, it could be argued, isn't that appeasement? And appeasement, based on the single data set of Hitler's Germany, never works.

But...containment does. As was proven by the decades of the Cold War and the decades before WW1 where the great powers of Europe managed an unquiet peace through mutually "respectful" distrust. There are no signs (as yet) that Putin wants more than the return of Mother Russia as a player, a proud nation. He's decided that he is the man to deliver that and, like many an egotistical leader, conflated his own continued power with the needs of his nation. The missile shield will never be an effective containment or detrerrent to Russia's military might - which makes it instead a senseless provocation. New nuclear designs just restart an arms race the world had thought was past and it could breath a sigh of relief. Russia's power and resources would make sanctions of dubious effectiveness. Still, a mix of peaceful and resolute political containment and carrots - through diplomacy, education and trade - can be an effective method for helping Russia back towards democracy in more than just name.

Too often, extreme conservatives of all nations characterise foreign policy decisions as "you're either with us or against us". But this introduces a level of obvious hatred into diplomacy that is always counterproductive. It's also lazy thinking. A stance of "we won't provoke you but we won't roll over either - play nice and you get a treat, don't and we'll find a way to swat you that you won't expect" works with dogs, kids and regimes with authoritarian tendencies. It takes more effort, more hard work, but it is the very heart of effective foreign policy.

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