26 March 2018 – New York, US
by Victor Rud – Board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and Chairman of its Committee on Foreign Affairs
Why are we so unceasingly apoplectic? Putin follows in the footsteps of the “efficient manager”, and poisons Sergei Skrypal and his daughter, having probably also earlier dispatched his wife and son. . . and others, on both sides of the pond. Nothing novel here. Stalin wasn’t coy: “We shall annihilate every one of these enemies . . . We shall annihilate him and his relatives, his family. Anyone who in deed or in thought, yes, in thought, attacks the unity of the socialist state will be mercilessly crushed by us. We shall exterminate all enemies to the very last man, and also their families and relatives!” It’s a vertiginous multiplier. Kill all the family members and friends and acquaintances. And along the way, don’t forget a dozen or so others. Just in case.
And then there’s this.
“It is particularly important to introduce geopolitical disorder into America’s internal activity, and to promote all kinds of separatist and ethnic, social and racial conflicts, actively supporting all opposition movements – extremist, racist, and sectarian groups, thereby disrupting internal political processes in the U.S. It would also make sense simultaneously to support isolationist tendencies in American politics….”
Russia should also work toward isolating Britain from Europe, introduce discord both within the EU and between the EU and US, and destabilize Turkey. Ukraine is to be extinguished, and Iran is to be a key player in a Russian-Islamic alliance against America. So wrote Russia’s ideologue, Aleksandr Dugin, in his Foundations of Geopolitics, co-authored with General Nikolai Klokotov of the General Staff Academy. That was 1997.
And we’re only now shedding our torpor?
It’s remarkable that a country held together with duct tape has so deftly body slammed the most powerful democracy onto the Richter scale. More than rhetorical fratricide chills our consciousness, as we ricochet between confusion and angst. Mental vivisection works.
It’s more remarkable, still, that the decibel level about Russian hacking paradoxically has been soporific. Even with E Pluribus Unum on the ropes, it still has not occurred to us to ask why we never saw it coming. The New York Times mocked Mitt Romney’s assertions in the 2012 presidential debate that Russia was America’s main geo-political foe as being “either a shocking lack of knowledge about international affairs or just craven politics. Either way, they are reckless and unworthy of a major presidential contender.” Where is now our self-examination?
Putin’s swagger is not fed by some Promethean prepotency but by our psychological profile that invites dezinformatsia, kompromat, agitatsia, provokatsia and maskirovka. Shortly put, Moscow’s Weapon of Mass Destruction is our bridal white innocence. Endearing in a toddler, it’s deadly in the real world.
Since the dissolution of the USSR, Russia hasn’t been on our radar screen, other than as an errant blip when it invaded Ukraine in 2014, the very cause of that dissolution. That alone should have shaken us to our core. Russia used Ukraine as the fulcrum to roll the globe, shattering the post-war order. The Obama Administration walked away from assurances of Ukraine’s sovereignty, the very inducement for Ukraine having surrendered the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal. A year before invading Ukraine, Putin wrote in a New York Times Op-ed: “[I]f you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus, a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you.”)
Our abdication leveraged Russia’s invasion tenfold, rocketing Damascus, Tehran, and Beijing up the learning curve with us, flailing, in tow. Now, look-what-I can-do North Korea has taken the cue. With the exception of the bloody news from Syria, were it not for the Russian hacking, our somnolence would have been complete.
If the Cold War teetered on nuclear winter, what did we do after the dissolution of the USSR to ensure there was no slingshot “Back to the USSR”? Our damning failure was not instituting a “Marshall Plan” for the dozen newly free nations of the former USSR to ensure they were not again occupied or suborned by Moscow. Solidifying their independence would have been the cheapest, safest and most certain guarantor against a resurgent predatory Russia directed against our shores. To be sure, there were spasms of government programs but nothing approaching our determination after WWII to prevent a remilitarized, aggressive Germany. Moscow never came to grips with its past, nor did anyone require it to. There was no purgation, no Nuremberg Trials. And on our own side? Was there a word of contrition, apology, or embarrassment by Moscow’s acolytes in the West? Did anyone lose tenure? What conclusions did Putin draw?
Our attitude was “let by-gone’s be by-gone’s”, “no need for recriminations.” We took our marbles and rushed home, simply hoping that the millions of military personnel, the operatives and agents and informants and sycophants and other nomenklatura were going to prostrate themselves, morph into good Rotarians because . . . well, simply because. It would have been a decidedly un-Darwinian denouement for No. 1 Dzerzhinsky Square. For us, though, it was the easy way out. In the meantime, Stalin’s next-of-kin (by polonium, carfentanyl, gelsemium, sarin, thallium, dioxin or (now) novichok diktat–you don’t get a choice) was resetting his own marbles and printing the rules of the game. New one here–only one player.
As we sprinted toward a Belle Époque of our imagination in 2003, Professor Michael McFaul, our future ambassador to Moscow under President Obama, concluded that by the late 1990’s Russia ceased being a threat to the US. But that was precisely when Dugin calibrated Russia’s attack coordinates against America–and President Clinton championed Russia’s inclusion in the G7. In 1999, Putin conducted a false flag operation, blasting apartment buildings to catalyze public opinion against Chechnya. Putin then promptly celebrated the genocidaire’s birthday. We slept. A year later, Putin also celebrated Felix Dzerzhinsky’s birthday, the sadistic founder of the CHEKA, precursor of the KGB. That was, yes, on 9/11. Putin’s call to President Bush that day was proof that the Cold War was “really over.”
As Putin deified the original terrorist state, our diplomatic politesse knew no bounds. We “looked the man in the eye . . . and [got] a sense of his soul.” We were unfazed after Putin adopted the score to the Soviet anthem. President Bush again: “I was struck by how easy it is to talk to President Putin, how easy it is to speak from my heart.” (“We talked like men and brothers,” gushed FDR about Stalin.) Putin continued to expose his muscle memory, coyly introducing Soviet symbolism at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and then full bore at the Sochi Olympics. We stared, blankly.
On the eve of her Senate confirmation hearings in January 2005 for Secretary of State, I wrote to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice: “If ‘winning’ meant dissolution of the Soviet Union cold logic dictates that all effort be applied to prevent Russia from now steamrolling the nascent democracies of the former USSR. More fantastic scenarios can be imagined than a reversion to an even more dangerous Russia.” The letter, dated December 15, 2004, was written four months before Putin’s lament about the dissolution of the Soviet Union being the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. The letter warned of the US being simultaneously confronted by a resurgent Russia and Islamic terrorism. Further, Iran and North Korea would reach the obvious conclusions in the face of Ukraine’s surrender of its nuclear arsenal.
It took nine years, only after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, for Secretary Rice to write in the Washington Post, “Will America Heed the Wake-Up Call of Ukraine?”. She described her encounter with Putin at his dacha (coincidently at the time of my letter) where he introduced her to Viktor Yanukovych (read Paul Manafort), Putin’s soon to be marionette in Ukraine. “Putin wanted me to get the point. Ukraine is ours—and don’t forget it.” The question begs an answer. Why the paucity of attention to Russia during those Senate confirmation hearings nine years earlier, in January 2005, and afterwards?
Our blind eye to reality was breathtaking. Only months after Putin’s invasion of Georgia, President Obama initiated his “reset”. The bonhomie of the kick-off in March 2009 shrouded almost eight years of outsourcing our security to Russia. The incompetence surrounding Edward Snowden’s defection may be chalked up to wonton recklessness. But it was willful malfeasance to remove missile defense systems from Eastern Europe, to turn a blind eye to Russia’s crass violations of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, and to roll out the red carpet for the Kremlin in Syria, the better to camouflage Obama’s “red line”.
Not since the 1930’s and 40’s has our pusillanimity been so provocative. Russia raced ahead modernizing its strategic nuclear arsenal, including massive submarine development. And what was Putin to deduce when, in March 2012, in an hot-mic moment Obama told Dmitri Medvedev that he’d have more flexibility to deal with Russia after the next presidential election? You would have thought that, as a tit for tat, Putin would prudently have cut Obama some slack pending the election. No. He already understood all that he had to. He had us pegged. That very summer Russian strategic nuclear bombers breached our airspace in Alaska, and an Akula-class attack submarine spent weeks in the Gulf of Mexico undetected.
Russia has outlawed itself and is a rogue state, puppeteering despots in the Middle East and Pyongyang. It will eventually dawn upon us that the proposed meet between President Trump and the North Korean despot (Putin provides his personal security detail) is a scam. But surely, now, we “get it”? Only if there is cold examination of how we got to where we are, and what that portends for the future. We would then be speaking not just in terms of “defending”, “dealing with ” and “managing” Russia’s frontal assault, but would grasp the overarching need to compel Russia itself to turn inward. We must cause the Kremlin to issue its own indictments. Dugin in reverse. But we must first decide who and what Putin is. He is either the one who writes in that same New York Times Op-ed: “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” Or he is the one who follows Stalin’s musing: “My greatest pleasure is to choose one’s victim, prepare one’s plans minutely, slake an implacable vengeance, and then go to bed. There’s nothing sweeter in the world.”
Feature Photo: Vladimir Putin at wreath laying ceremony – Kremlin.ru, 2018
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Victor Rud is a board member of the Ukrainian American Bar Association and chairman of its Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Victor Rud has more than thirty-five years experience as an international attorney. Before Ukrainian independence, he was co-counsel, in the West, for members of the Ukrainian Helsinki Accords Watch Group, and for other dissidents in Ukraine. He was also counsel to the US Public Member to the Helsinki Accords Review Conference in Madrid. He is an honors graduate of Harvard College and Duke Law School.