Will Putin trump Medvedev and return Russia – and US ties – to Soviet era?
The ideological divide in Russia between Soviet-tending Putin and pro-Western Medvedev makes it tough for the US to set policies with Moscow. But a more difficult scenario is likely to come: anti-Western Putin in power in 2012. Obama must send a strong message to Moscow now, not later.
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Putin echoes Stalin: 'weak are beaten'
Putin’s warning in the recent Duma report echoes Mikhalkov – and Stalin, who famously said that “the weak are beaten.”Skip to next paragraph
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In his address, Putin said “...if you are weak, there for sure will be someone who would ... give advice, in which direction to move, what policy to pursue, which path to chose for one’s development. And these ostensibly light-touch advices may look not bad, but behind them is coarse Diktat and intervention in internal affairs of sovereign states...”
Putin – in pointed opposition to Medvedev and Yurgens – rejects “zigzagging, ill-conceived experiments based on unjustified liberalism, or, on the other side, social demagoguery.” This, too, is vintage Mikhalkov: anti-liberal and anti-communist, but statist and imperialist.
The rise of the New Right
Mikhalkov is attempting to capture the anti-immigration rhetoric of the quickly emerging Russian neo-Nazi fringe, dilute it, and make it a part of the political nationalist mainstream. His “Right and Truth” are attempts to utilize Russian culture as an instrument of social integration, and seize the skyrocketing anti-immigrant agenda.
The Moscow elites know that the anti-immigrant New Right is rising Europe-wide, as witnessed by the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen in France, the electoral victory of the True Finns in Finland, and the popularity of the Danish People’s Party and the Dutch Freedom Party. In Russia, as elsewhere, cultural and ethnic defensiveness is capable of violence and social destabilization.
Western European leaders, including Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and German chancellor Angela Merkel increasingly proclaim that multiculturalism is failing – or dead. In the 2011 to 2012 electoral cycle, Putin – and his friend Mikhalkov – want to remain in power, while neutralizing the rise of the Russian fascism, and preventing the political victory of the reformists led by Medvedev and Yurgens.
US needs strong message for Russia
They are likely to get what they want, and the Obama administration better wake up and recognize this impending reality. Four more years of authoritarianism is likely to reverse the even modest achievements of the US-Russia “reset” policy; put a clamp on Internet freedom; and speed up emigration of the best and the brightest from Russia.
The administration should warn the Russian political class that business as usual, including anti-American propaganda, corruption, and the clamp-down on political opposition and on Russian neighbors may come at a price.
ANOTHER VIEW: How to warm US-Russia relations
Russian officials who are involved in blatant rule-of-law violations or money laundering, should face visa bans, and their foreign properties should be investigated, as members of the US Congress are suggesting. The US should certainly pursue its interests in relations with Moscow – but also uphold its values.
Ariel Cohen is senior research fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies at The Heritage Foundation.