An Uncomfortable Spotlight On Putin
In the wake of Litvinenko's death, the West must insist on cooperation from the FSB in finding his killers. If that is not forthcoming, it should be assumed that the murder of Litvinenko was ordered by the Russian regime.Putin won't care much for that spotlight, which should get close enough to him to pick up the shine on his Oxfords. But there's another spotlight that's firing up, showing Putin for the Soviet-era throw-back that he is: That's the one that's illuminating his efforts to depose of pro-American Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili.
Under those circumstances, not only should Russia be expelled from the G-8 but the whole structure of mutual consultation and cooperation would need to be re-evaluated. This is not just a matter of refusing to trivialize a murder. It is also a vital political obligation. Russians of all types are watching to see whether the West will simply swallow this crime or finally react to the rampant criminalization of Russian society. There are forces in Russia that want the country to be part of the West. But to back them, we need to demonstrate that we have moral values that we defend. To do less would be to abandon Russia to the forces of nihilism and obscurantism.
Writing in today's WaPo, Richard Holbrook admits Saakashvili's leadership has not been perfect, but calls the leader "almost everything the United States and the European Union should support."
He led the peaceful 2003 Rose Revolution that overthrew the corrupt regime of Eduard Shevardnadze. He then opened the country to Western investment, presided over a dramatic turnaround in a once-hopeless economy, and instituted massive reforms of the police and civil service.Hardly the sort Putin wants on his southern border. Especially since Saakashvili is tall and handsome to Putin's petite and mousy. Can't have that! So, says Holbrook:
Putin's methods are brutal. He has expelled at least 1,700 Georgians since October, cracked down on Georgian-owned businesses, made repeated statements about preserving the Russian market for real Russians and demonized Georgians as a criminal class. He has doubled natural gas prices two years running and cut off all direct rail, air, road, sea and postal links between the two countries.With America focused on Iraq and needing Russian support on Iran and Korea, it's clear Putin thinks he can get away with these sorts of efforts to reconstitute Soviet rule.
Russia has also waged an aggressive international disinformation campaign to raise doubts about Saakashvili -- I have heard astonishing, wholly undocumented charges about his alleged corruption and his "hot-headed" style in Berlin, Brussels and even Washington. In Tbilisi today, you can hear an ugly word for this that rises out of the depths of 19th-century Russian history: pogrom.
He'd better be wrong.
Related Tags: Putin, Saakashvili, Litvineko, Russia, Georgia, Foreign affairs