I was sharing with Roger how some US Republicans have said they hold Vladimir Putin in higher regard than Nancy Pelosi and other US Democrats. In short, these folks are taking their eye off the ball. If they really feel this way, I have serious concerns around their judgment. Why would I say this?
In addition to his bent for invading or infiltrating former Soviet satellites, Putin has a history of ordering the elimination of his opposition. Either by murder, arrest or both, people who criticize the Russian leader have a habit of disappearing. In John McCain’s biography called “The Restless Wave,” he gives the example of Sergei Magnistky, among others, for whom the Magnitsky Act was passed to sanction Russia.
In short, Magnitsky, an auditor, went to bat for a US businessman who did business in Russia. When the businessman tried to extricate himself, his Russian business and its assets were seized by Putin under false pretenses. For his efforts, Magnitsky was jailed, where he was not treated for illnesses and was severely beaten, eventually dying in prison.
As is his nature, Putin took great offense at the sanctions and made an executive order to cease US adoptions of Russian children. Why is this important now? When Donald Trump, Junior and Senior, say the meeting at Trump Tower with the Russians was about adoptions, it is really about the existence of the Magnitsky Act and other sanctions that precipitated Putin’s cessation of adoptions.
Per McCain and other sources he cites, Putin, as a self-possessed strong man, reacts to strength, not weakness. He will keep doing what he is doing until the pain exceeds the gain. The sanctions hurt like hell, which is why he takes great offense when they are used, as he did today. So, unless the US punishes Putin for his cyber attack on America to sway public opinion, it will keep occurring with impunity.
The primary reason we know Putin is involved in the cyber attack is he controls everything in Russia. He pays attention to content of the US version of Russian Television so says former US anchors who left as a result. He pays attention to TV sitcoms to make sure they favor Putin on big items, while allowing some small criticism to avoid being too overt per a former producer of TV sitcoms. So, on the most impactful and cost effective tactic in modern warfare, where he can gain a great deal without ever firing a shot, of course, he is intimately involved in puppeteering the ongoing operation.
Putin is a shrewd man. He knows his stances against LGBT people in Russia, as well as repurposing the church as a center of influence, play well to US evangelicals. So, as he does his part to help break up western alliances and diminish democracies, as he is doing in the US, he is positioning himself as a global statesman.
Finally, there are two cautions from McCain we should heed. First, the source of the Steele Dossier about the Russians potential compromising information on the US President, Christopher Steele is a well-regarded professional, so says Sir Andrew Wood, former UK Ambassador to Russia. Issue has been made that the dossier was paid for as opposition research by first Republican opponents of Trump, but then by Clinton. But, McCain and Wood felt the dossier has enough veracity to get in the hands of the FBI.
Second, Putin views acquiescence as weakness. So, the US President’s fawning over Putin in Helsinki revealed Trump’s weakness. It was so weak, Putin actually walked away with too much (think about the sitcom story above), as it caused a backlash from the US Congress. He would have been better served if Trump appeared tougher towards Putin.
Trump contends there is pushback on his meeting with Putin. Of course, we should talk with other leaders who are at odds with is. I have not heard criticism of two parties talking. The criticism has been over being prepared and not being fooled. Putin, and Kim before him, have studied and prepared for such a meeting. The US President brags on winging it. That is not a good bargaining strategy.