Engage Russia, but ‘grand bargain with Putin is a terrible idea’


Advocates of engaging Vladimir Putin’s Russia should avoid fueling unrealistic expectations of a breakthrough and instead seek incremental progress on specific topics based on a set of guiding principles, says a new report on Guiding Principles for a Sustainable U.S. Policy Toward Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia.

“Engagement with Russia will not come at the expense of the rights and interests of Russia’s neighbors,” the report states. “At the same time, the United States must recognize that the long-term challenge of promoting democracy in Russia and Eurasia will be a demand-driven rather than supply-driven process.”

Nevertheless, it adds, “Russian state-sponsored attacks on the institutions and processes that guide modern democratic societies must be exposed and answered. The United States must also significantly strengthen the resilience of its critical infrastructure, support European efforts to thwart and expose Russian interference in their domestic politics, and develop closer transatlantic coordination of retaliatory measures.”

But a grand bargain with Putin is a terrible idea, says The Economist.

“What’s not to like? Pretty much everything,” the paper writes. “The Kremlin’s interests and America’s are worlds apart.”

“While politicians and commentators across the Atlantic world foolishly laud Vladimir Putin as a strong leader who gets things done” – writes George Weigel (right), Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy – “facts are stubborn things, and the facts are that Putin runs a kleptocracy that sits atop a crumbling civil society, maintains his control of that humanly ruinous situation by lethal force and a vast propaganda apparatus with tentacles reaching all over the world, and poses as a defender of traditional values.”

The Kremlin will welcome indications that the U.S. is “backing off from regime change and democracy promotion. That is music to Putin’s ears,” says Angela Stent, a Russia expert at Georgetown University in Washington. “The hints . . . suggest that [the U.S.] acknowledges Russia’s ‘sphere of privileged interests’ in the post-Soviet space, as Putin likes to call it, and that the US won’t interfere there,” she tells The FT.

And yet recent events suggest that the need for solidarity with Russian democrats has never been more urgent.

Russian activist and former journalist Vladimir Kara-Murza (right) regained consciousness in a Moscow hospital after an apparent poisoning, his wife said today. Observers were quick to compare Kara-Murza’s misfortune to that of Alexander Litvinenko, a disenchanted former Russian security agent poisoned to death by radioactive polonium-210 in London in 2006, Newsweek reports:

The context of his murder is plumbed in a heart-pounding new book (above) on the affair, A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West, by British journalist Luke Harding.

“Litvinenko wasn’t exactly James Bond,” writes Harding, a veteran foreign correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. “But he was passing British intelligence sensitive information about the links between Russia mafia gangs active in Europe and powerful people at the very top of Russian power—including Putin.”

A Russian court on Wednesday effectively derailed a presidential run by another Putin critic, Aleksei A. Navalny — the only opposition candidate with a broad, enthusiastic popular following — by reviving a four-year-old criminal conviction, The New York Times adds:

Russian political analysts suggested that the prospect of Mr. Navalny’s gaining a national platform to further criticize Mr. Putin had proved too much for the Kremlin hierarchy to tolerate.

“The danger associated with Mr. Navalny (left) is easy to explain,” said Vladislav L. Inozemtsev, director of the Center for Postindustrial Studies in Moscow, wrote in an email. “If allowed to run, he will disseminate his corruption findings more widely than ever — and this disturbs very much Mr. Putin and his gang.”

Meanwhile, Russia is increasingly cracking down on Internet users as courts impose harsh jail sentences for posts expressing political views, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

“The Russian authorities have begun to see the Internet as a theater of war, both inside and outside” the country, with the slightest criticism “seen as like an armed attack,” the Agora advocacy group said in a report released in Moscow on February 7.

“The fashion among some Western politicians is to say they want to engage Mr. Putin the way Ronald Reagan did the Soviet Union. One difference is that Reagan would not have hesitated to speak up for Messrs. Navalny and Kara-Murza,” says The Wall Street Journal.

Navalny may still run, or the state may keep him off the ballot, but it won’t change anything, analyst Julia Ioffe writes for The Atlantic:

Putin  has swept the field of any rivals, controls the state’s electoral apparatus, and has basked in glowing TV coverage for 16 years. He will win regardless. Retrying and resentencing Navalny was just another way to eliminate any risk, albeit lazily. The judge in the case didn’t even bother writing up a new decision. He just read the same one from four years ago, typos and all.

Kara-Murza addressed a 2015 symposium honoring the memory of Boris Nemtsov, The Struggle for Russia’s Future, organized by the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email