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Russia, Wannabe Superpower

Will Putin’s ban on adoptions finally help U.S. officials grasp the nature of Russia’s political leadership?

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Left: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on December 28, 2012. Right: U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Russia and Moldova Jackson-Vanik Repeal and Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act into law at the White House on December 14, 2012. (Left: Alexei Nikolsky/AFP/Getty Images; right: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
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Putin Is Wrong About My Kids

Our adopted children escaped the misery of Russian orphanages. Others won’t be as lucky.

Maybe Mitt Romney was right. The failed Republican presidential candidate got ripped during the campaign when he called Russia our “No. 1 geopolitical foe,” but he seems to have had a clearer picture of the country than President Obama, who was famously overheard promising then-President Dmitri Medvedev more “flexibility” regarding missile defense and other issues after the election. “I will transmit this message to Vladimir,” said Medvedev, referring to Putin, the man who just last week signed a law forbidding Americans from adopting Russian children.

The legislation was apparently enacted as revenge for a U.S. law targeting Russian officials involved in the 2009 death of Russian anti-corruption whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky. But given that Russia regularly jails nonviolent dissidents, systematically violates the human rights of its own citizens, and writes anti-gay legislation, their vindictive move on adoptions should come as little surprise. It says something about the nature of Russian society that the orphans of a country rich with petrodollars should have to look elsewhere for loving parents—and that, when they find them abroad, the Kremlin would still find a way to stamp out their hope.

What’s strange is that even though Obama Administration officials have criticized Moscow on a range of different issues, they nonetheless seem unable to grasp what this characteristic disregard of Russian citizens says about the fundamental nature of Russia’s political leadership. To be sure, State Department spokesmen condemned “the Russian government’s politically motivated decision” on the adoption ban. But that same State Department is keen to work with the Kremlin on all sorts of geopolitical matters, from Iran to Afghanistan and perhaps most notably in bringing an end to the Syrian civil war, recently working with Russia to back a U.N.-sponsored peace plan. Indeed, ever since Obama declared in August 2011 that Bashar al-Assad should step down, the United States has sought to convince Putin to help topple the Syrian tyrant.

But see it from the perspective of Russia’s tyrant: If the U.S. president is not willing to put any skin in the game, why should the Americans get a cheap victory on Syria? Plus, it costs Russia little to obstruct. The Russians, as they’ve shown in Syria and with the adoption ban, are indifferent to international opprobrium—and besides, everyone comes back eventually to ask them for something, even the Americans. It’s almost enough to make the Russians feel they’re still a superpower.

***

The fall of the Soviet Union marked what many in Washington hoped was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. The end of the Cold War, according to Mikhail Gorbachev and George H.W. Bush, had ushered in a “new world order.” Almost five decades of superpower conflict fought via proxies on four continents had come to an end. It’s noteworthy that 1 million Jews bet their lives against this new world order by fleeing Russia for Israel; they apparently understood that there would be no new Russia.

And yet American policymakers, journalists, and academics have deluded themselves for 20 years about a society where the men suffer from widespread alcoholism and many women are trafficked abroad as sex workers. George W. Bush said he looked into the eyes of Putin and saw his soul, perhaps imagining that he was conversing with a character from a Turgenev story rather than a man schooled by the most brutal clandestine service in modern history.

Now it seems it is Obama who has fooled himself. For a year and a half Vladimir Putin has made it abundantly clear that, no matter how many times U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice expresses outrage when Moscow vetoes stronger resolutions against Assad, he is not going to break with the Syrian president. The new U.N. plan, for starters, would leave Assad in power at least until 2014. In attempting to partner with a Kremlin that has entirely different objectives, either the White House is obtuse or, as some have argued, cynical. As Tony Badran, research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote regarding Syria, “Talking to the Russians enabled the [Obama] administration to maintain the pretense of meaningful diplomatic activity, all while allowing it to blame the lack of any breakthrough on Moscow.”

The question is: Why are the Russians refusing to budge? What stake does Moscow have in sticking with Assad until the bitter end? Russia has no vital interests in Syria. Damascus has been a major customer for Russian arms for more than four decades but has paid only a fraction of what it owes for those weapons. As for Russia’s so-called naval base in Tartus, in fact it is little more than a refueling station with a staff of four people.

Some analysts argue that Moscow is still angry at the United States, France, and Britain for over-reaching with its U.N. security council resolution, meant to protect Libyan innocents, by using it to depose Muammar Qaddafi in October 2011. Putin, this argument goes, now fears that the United States is getting regime-change happy and may come for him next. But this doesn’t hold up: As the Russians themselves acknowledged with their 2008 invasion of Georgia , U.N. security council resolutions don’t crush governments; armies do.

Others claim that Moscow is terrified of the rise of the Islamists throughout the Middle East. It’s true that the Russians are worried about their own Islamist problem—the Chechen rebels that have often taken the war to Moscow itself. And there are reports of Chechen fighters scattered among different Syrian rebel units. But the notion that Putin is more generally worried about the rise of radical Islam is nonsense. After all, by supporting Assad, Putin has aligned himself with Iran and Hezbollah, the most dangerous radical Islamist bloc and the one that, unlike the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood, is marching toward a nuclear weapons program.

So, what’s the problem? It runs deeper than Putin. After the dissolution of the Soviet empire, American academics counseled Russian leaders on how they might best transform a command economy into a free-market system. And yet as the Mafia-fication of Russian enterprise showed in the 1990s, the problem was not then, and is not now, the Russian financial system. To turn a Marxist concept on its head, the issue is not the base—the forces and relations of production—but rather the superstructure. The problem is the culture.

Communism targeted what can be called Russia’s soul. The Russian Orthodox Church was a frequently cruel spirit that nurtured, among other evils, anti-Semitism. But without it, the tremendous sacrifices that the Soviets endured during World War II meant nothing more than a bloodletting. Between 20 million and 40 million Soviet citizens were killed in World War II, many murdered by Soviet authorities. What survived World War II, Stalin’s purges, the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet empire was the brutal moral and political vision that Putin now embodies.

A political order that put out contracts to kill journalists, poisoned dissidents, and gassed hostages to death when Chechen terrorists took over a Moscow theater in 2003 is not going to have any misgivings about using its orphans as political chips. Nor will it shirk from endorsing pogroms in Syria just to show up an American president as toothless. The real horror is that in giving the Russians a say in Syria, the White House is collaborating with monsters.

***

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Saint_Etienne says:

Very true. I just wish Mr. Smith had expounded more on how compassion has been washed out of the Russian societal DNA over the last, say, 70 years.

Russia and Putin are not monsters, but have interests, interests for themselves! Even politicians in Europe and the USA should understand.

And now ponder what this Russian mindset means for Israel, given that it has imported so many citizens from there.

    Mikhail Drabkin says:

    What? You fear Russian Jews will run Israel not asking your permission – you bet they will!

hekesq says:

While Russia is no great friend of the US, to call it the number one enemy is absurd and shows a complete lack of knowledge of international relations and geopolitics.

peter ross says:

by no means Russia is a “wannabe” superpower. It is the one.

>The Russian Orthodox Church was a frequently cruel spirit that nurtured, among other >evils, anti-Semitism.

you can say it about any christian church not just russian.

peter ross says:

>It’s noteworthy that 1 million Jews bet their lives against this new world order by >fleeing Russia for Israel;

and now they are fleeing back . there are 500K in Moscow only.

    Mikhail Drabkin says:

    A blatant lie, what else to expect from a Russia hater! Jews left Russia for Israel because HIAS stopped taking them in the US, not for a sense of love for Israel, or betting against the New World Order

peter ross says:

my comment is gone . it was about 1 mln left russia for israel and 500K back in moscow simce then.

greg x. says:

Is Russia’s ban on American adoptions despicable and self-defeating? Yes. And I wish that every American would flood Russian embassies and consulates with complaints, and news outlets with denunciations, of this policy.

But, being a right wing ideologue, Mr. Smith can’t limit himself to condemning this repugnant policy. He, instead, in the hallowed tradition of his forbears at the Weekly Standard who have made a living out of Russia-bashing, condemns an entire country and an entire culture and an entire people, and calls into question an American foreign policy towards Russia that has nothing at all to do with adoptions, and everything to do with using Russian land and airspace to support and evacuate troops in Afghanistan, and decreasing the threat Russian nuclear weapons pose to global security.

An interesting trait of the American neocon is that he is incapable of recognizing his own errors and faults, but intensely focuses on those of others.

He condemns Russia for it’s treatment of orphans, for it’s attitudes towards gays, and for it’s human rights abuses, but these are all arguments that can be levied at the policies of this country that Mr. Smith’s magazine has wholeheartedly supported.

Certain states in the U.S. have engaged in a variety of anti-gay legislation especially in the past ten years that the gay marriage issue has been a method for neocons to stir up support among their base in elections. Moreover, if you want to talk about human rights abuses, one only needs to look at the the American national security police state and its daily infringement on our personal freedoms, and, moreover, methods such as extraordinary rendition, drone kills of American citizens, and masacres of noncombatants in Iraq and Afghanistan to wonder what exactly about Russia’s brutish and idiotic regime makes it any less of a superpower than our country and its equally thuggish behavior. And if Russia’s self-defeating policies towards its orphans no longer makes it a respectable country, then what of America’s creation of thousands of orphans in the Middle East due to our invasions in Iraq and Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of adults, leaving their children to beg, steal, become jihadists for food, or prostitute themselves to survive? Is that how a REAL superpower behaves? What does it say about American society that we would allow these things to happen? Surely, Mr. Smith would answer, “it means we are great, and that all countries should bow before our greatness and strive to emulate us!”

Also, other grievous, embarasing errors

1) Russia sees it’s influence in the Middle East as a bargaining chip:and is only willing to give in on Syria for something in return. If you think that is immoral, you should ask the political dissidents brutally oppressed by Bahrain if our cynical support of their government as leverage against Iran is worth it, or if it tarnishes our superpower status.

2) Russia is in no way concerned about Islamic radicalism from Iran, and it is a glaring, unsubstantiated leap for you to say so. Iran and Russia have a tacit agreement that Iran will not support radicalism in the Russian Caucasus or Central Asia ( there has been no such support in the past twenty years since Russian independence), partly out of Iran’s recognition that Russia is strong enough to severely injure Iranian interests if it did, and partly because Russia is one of the few powers willing to provide Iran with needed technological products and know how.

3) You seem to blame Russia for the failure in the U.S.-Russia relationship. But, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it the U.S. that encouraged NATO, an organization founded to fight Russia, to continue expanding all the way to Russia’s borders, and not allowing, despite it’s requests, for it to become a NATO member? Also, do you remember that we foisted ill-advised and utopian economic policies onto the Russians that resulted in ten years of negative economic growth? And that we supported their President, Boorish Yeltsin, when he violated all standards of democracy and bombed and attacked the Russian Parliament when parliamentarians refused to accede to his constutionally illegal and unpopular economic shock policies? Can we honestly blame anyone but ourselves for the failure of the post-Soviet US-Russia relationship?

4)”You write: “It’s noteworthy that 1 million Jews bet their lives against this new world order by fleeing Russia for Israel; they apparently understood that there would be no new Russia.”…. Well, while you were in your self-imposed bubble, a new Russia has formed, and it is freer and wealthier than Russia has ever been. Is it as democratic or as free as the U.S.? No, and it maybe never be. But the new Russia is certainly a better place than anything Russia has seen before. And the Jews who left? In the 1990’s anyone who could have left did. Jews had immediate citizenship in Israel, and Israel’s economy was growing while chaos was taking apart Russia. It’s another great assumption of yours to say “they understood there would be no new Russia.” And to make matters worse for your argument, Putin is perhaps the most Jewish-friendly leader in the history of Russia, supporting the building of a menorah on Red Square and a museum of Jewish history in Russia.

5) Russia is no longer a superpower and its leaders accept this and are unwilling to expend the resources to attempt to reclaim such status. If only journals like yours would follow Putin’s lead, we might not have spent 3 Trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lost thousands of American lives.

So , lastly, before you throw around words like “monster” and accuse Putin of embodying a brutal moral and political vision, consider for a moment the brutal moral and political vision you and your ilk have supported in this country the past twenty years that has led to one foreign and financial disaster after another, and a vast amount of human suffering.

    commonsense77 says:

    Have you ever spoken to a Russian or Soviet immigrant in the US, or a Russian dissident currently in Russia? I don’t think they would paint for you a picture of moral equivalency in the way that the US treats homosexuals, orphans or human rights issues with Russia’s approach. In fact, I would argue they would tell you there is a massive difference. If you spend even two weeks in Russia as a tourist, you will see it. And I would argue probably more than 80-90 percent or emigres would tell they do not want to live in today’s “freer and “wealthier” Russia. The Museum of Jewish History, btw, is a building with a name that draws positive attention among the misinformed only advancing Putin’s PR machine…what’s inside is a display of selective memory on Putin’s part.

      greg x. says:

      I would agree that U.S. vs. Russian positions on those issues are not equivalent, but do you think it’s fair , appropriate or logically consistent to condemn not only the Russian government, but it’s culture and it’s people when we also have glaring problems in these areas, and when the author and the journal he works for are a major source of propagating ideas behind these problems? Or that Russia is singled-out as our greatest geopolitical foe for it’s refusal to fall in line with U.S policy, a situation reminiscent of neoconservative hysteria over France when it refused to accede to UN approval for the invasion of Iraq? Or that Russia is singled-out as a brutal, authoritarian regime, when many of our own allies are far more brutal to their gays and dissidents ( How many gays has Saudi Arabia put to death the past decade)?

      Do you think it acceptable that an article that should have simply condemned a stupid and emotional reaction by the Russian government turned into a a biased and largely fabricated rehashing of U.S.-Russian relations, which entirely put the blame for their failure on Russia, and not on the policies advocated by people like Lee Smith and his fellow travelers at the Weekly Standard?
      And simply because most of the Russian Jewish diaspora does not wish to return to Russia from Israel’s advanced capitalist economy and sunny climes, does not deny the amazing changes and progress Russia has undergone, or the fact that it is freer and wealthier than it ever has been ( you seem to question this with your quotations). Regarding Putin and the Jews, I wouldn’t deny anyone who claims he’s an autocrat or a brute, but his fondness for Jews seems to be legitimate, unless you are privy to some information that would argue otherwise. And simply because the Russian Jewish History museum glosses over Jewish suffering at the hands of Russian Imperial and Soviet governments, does not then suggest that Putin doesn’t support the Russian Jewish community, but rather, those omissions are part of his myth-building of Russia as a harmonious, multi-confessional state.

    hyphenatedamerican says:

    “But, being a right wing ideologue, Mr. Smith can’t limit himself to condemning this repugnant policy. ”

    Eh… The Russian government decided to punish Russian orphans with incurable deseases in order to revenge the American measures against Russian buerucrats. That’s pure evil.

    “He, instead, in the hallowed tradition of his forbears at the Weekly Standard who have made a living out of Russia-bashing, condemns an entire country and an entire culture and an entire people, and calls into question an American foreign policy towards Russia…”

    So, Russian culture and Russian people are completely innocent. Hm. And Us foreign policy should ignore that Putin and his lackeys are insane. M-kay, that makes perfect sense….

    “Certain states in the U.S. have engaged in a variety of anti-gay legislation especially in the past ten years that the gay marriage issue has been a method for neocons to stir up support among their base in elections.”

    M-kay. So, on one side some states don’t recognize gay marriage. On the other side, Russian police beats up gays on the streets. Same thing really. And don’t forget that some evil republicans refused to provide free condoms to American women – which is just as bad as Saudi Arabian treatment of women.

    Put it differently, if US is not ideal (i.e. perfect from left-wing point of view), it cannot criticise anyone. I wonder if this also means that liberals cannot attack concervatives until those same liberals give away 100% of their money….

    “Moreover, if you want to talk about human rights abuses, one only needs to look at the the American national security police state and its daily infringement on our personal freedoms, and, moreover, methods such as extraordinary rendition, drone kills of American citizens, and masacres of noncombatants in Iraq and Afghanistan to wonder what exactly about Russia’s brutish and idiotic regime makes it any less of a superpower than our country and its equally thuggish behavior.”

    M-kay. I guess someone really thinks that US armed forces treats civilians in Iraq in the same way that Russia treats Chechen. I mean, really, this is not a grave error of judgement – this is plain stupidity. I advise greg to read Russian newspapers and find out about multiple “cleaning camps” that the Russians had and tens of thousands of chechens who disappeared in them never to be found. Or he may want to watch Russian TV and find out about the flattenning of Chechen cities. Now, I am not trying to prove that Chechnya was or is a nice place – but facts are facts.

    “But, correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it the U.S. that encouraged NATO, an organization founded to fight Russia, to continue expanding all the way to Russia’s borders, and not allowing, despite it’s requests, for it to become a NATO member?”

    Well, yes, NATO touches Russian borders through Estonia and Latvia. And that is a threat to Russia? How many US troops are in those two countries? As for Russia joining NATO – that’s a rather weird proposal. Is Russia democratic enough, stable enough to join NATO?

    “Also, do you remember that we foisted ill-advised and utopian economic policies onto the Russians that resulted in ten years of negative economic growth? ”

    Latvia, Litva and Estonia and Poland went much further than Russia in putting those “utopian economic policies” into practice – and are now doing quite well, compared to Russia. In fact, at the time when Russia launched those policies, it was on the edge of hunger, and complete chaos. The two European countries that moved slower were Belarus (with its dictator) and Ukraine – and they are not successful economically.

    “And that we supported their President, Boorish Yeltsin, when he violated all standards of democracy and bombed and attacked the Russian Parliament when parliamentarians refused to accede to his constutionally illegal and unpopular economic shock policies?”

    Interestingly enough, the Parliament was elected under the communist regime, and had very limited legitimacy. Moreover, those “illegal and unpopular economic shock policies” were actually approved in the referendum – an inconvenient fact that greg does not know. Thirdly, there was nothing illegal in Yeltsin’s policies. Lastly, the bombardment started only after the Parliament sent the troops to storm the TV stations and the head of Parliament called for an attack on Kremlin. Again, these are inconvenient facts, which are not known to self-proclaimed experts, holier than thou who believe only they can critisize.

    “Well, while you were in your self-imposed bubble, a new Russia has formed, and it is freer and wealthier than Russia has ever been.”

    After 1991 and until 2001, Russia had free press, free elections, freedom to demonstrate. Today, none of that exists. Putin controls the press, all TV is in his hands, the elections are bogus, and Putin also appoints governors and mayors. Only very ignorant people would claim that Russia now is freer than ever. The wealth of Russia now comes from oil – the price of oil today is about $100 per barrel. It was about $8 per barrel in 1998. Clearly, Russian wealth did not come from any useful production, but simply is a result of oil price fluctuation. Again, it’s advisable for experts to know this.

    “So , lastly, before you throw around words like “monster” and accuse Putin of embodying a brutal moral and political vision, consider for a moment the brutal moral and political vision you and your ilk have supported in this country the past twenty years that has led to one foreign and financial disaster after another, and a vast amount of human suffering.”

    In short, no one critisize Putin, unless one is blameless. Even if the blame is made up (financial disaster due to Fannie and Freddie run by liberals, the requirement for banks to give loans to undeserving people; Brutal dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq). Well, I may push back a little – how dare you and your ilk critisize the neo-conservatives after your left-wing policies led to financial disasters and genocides all over the world?

Orphanages are a sensitive topics here where I reside I really dont hear much about them, but children are often “parcelled” out to families as foster children if not adopted, and I’m not sure that that is necessarily a bad thing? Its very hard as we are in north america during a time of globalization, and restructuring, trying to lure higher paying jobs, how this topic came on the agenda? Not only Russia but Asia as well, for years has had poor living quality for children born in orphanages? It may have to do with whom the parents are, or what have you but I think it has nothing political in nature, it may have to do with culture, in Korea and even other areas I’ve read of this..it is a good thing that orphanages are studied..and better approaches to their upbringing in care in this culture..have we examined foster children in our culture, and I have known a few? Cultural integration of these traumatized children, as all adoptees are, but why is this being dscussed? This reminds us of the cold war days..but its 2013..and Mr Putin may not like Americans in his hometown..but one power is living in the 1950’s..when there are many emerging power blocks..but often the kids are moved out of country in old cultures, since there’s a stigma to them in their country, for a reason, relating to their parents as in old asia..but I dont know about Russia?

Mikhail Drabkin says:

Weekly Standard… – says it all! As mensh-like as a Jewish Republican..Them caring about underprivileged kids??? – give me a break!

Elena Steele says:

what kind of peace are you talking about……..

JhoffaX says:

GOD BLESS VLAD PUTIN!!!!!!! PUTIN 2016!!

hitler says:

racist website

franchescaolsen says:

I don’t know what to say but i think we have to respect the decision of the people to have a good leaders in their country. majority chooses them and that’s the best. earn 100% real estate commission

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Russia, Wannabe Superpower

Will Putin’s ban on adoptions finally help U.S. officials grasp the nature of Russia’s political leadership?

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