With ‘collusion’ dead, it’s time to face the real Russian menaceMay 10, 2019
Endlessly obsessed with Russia’s interference in the last election, one half of Washington — the Democrats — all but ignore Russia’s current nefarious deeds around the globe.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will meet his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, next week. They will have a lot to discuss.
Consider: When Iran tried to blackmail Europe this week by threatening to undo the nuclear deal, it sent Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Moscow. That’s where Tehran gets its strongest support.
To undermine America’s sale of F-35 fighter jets to Turkey, Putin offered Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan a mega-deal for anti-aircraft S-400 missiles.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is in Russia’s crosshairs again. Cuba hosts Russian warships. Germany is eager to complete the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would tighten the Kremlin’s energy grip on much of Europe.
And now Kremlin aggression extends into our hemisphere, with Russian paramilitary thugs in Venezuela to prop up Nicolás Maduro’s socialist dictatorship. According to Pompeo and National Security Adviser John Bolton, Russia was instrumental in undermining a recent deal to ease Maduro into retirement on a nice Cuban beach.
In a recent talk with UN reporters, the much-admired former Venezuelan diplomat Diego Arria said his country is “occupied” by Russia (along with Cuba, China and Iran). Yet, he added, Moscow doesn’t really care much about Venezuela. It’s there mostly to tweak America’s nose.
That’s true elsewhere, too. As it was throughout the Cold War, Moscow’s top obsession is with what it sees as a global Russian-US competition.
The Democrats and the foreign-policy bureaucracy, meanwhile, enable Putin’s interference everywhere with their one-track obsession with “collusion” and Trump’s ascent to the White House. Congress, our intelligence agencies, the media — the capital is mired in back-and-forth sniping over Russia’s election interference. Yes, it happened, and it’ll probably continue in 2020. But a threat to the republic? The Kremlin’s global shenanigans are much more menacing.
Trump’s occasional foolish public statements aside — he said last week he believed Putin’s claim that Russia isn’t involved in Venezuela — the current administration’s actions have been fairly tough. Surrounded by hawks, Trump has pushed back more forcefully against Russia’s new imperialism than Barrack Obama did, for one.
But more is needed. Putin is very good at playing a weak poker hand, but sooner or later someone must call his bluff — and Russia’s weak economy is key.
Take Syria. This week, Russian fighters backed Bashar al-Assad’s renewed butchery in Idlib and other Sunni strongholds. For a half decade, Putin has secured Assad’s hold on power, gaining in return a warm water base for the Russian navy on the Mediterranean.
Now Assad wants to retake the whole country, and he desperately needs foreign funds. Yet money is something his allies, Russia and Iran, don’t have. America’s Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf do, and they’d love to gain access to Syria by helping their Sunni brethren, even if that entails dealing with Assad.
Putin can project military power but has no economic influence — and that can be used by Trump, whose foreign-policy doctrine relies on the mighty dollar, rather than US arms, to project America’s global power. Syria is one opportunity to project dollar-power.
Venezuela is another. Trump’s Venezuela point man, Elliott Abrams, says the White House is considering new sanctions against Moscow’s key operatives in Venezuela. Such a move is much more likely to happen — and much more tolerable to the US public — than dispatching American troops.
So while it has yet to emerge, a coherent Russia strategy is possible. It hasn’t been formed so far, largely because Trump’s hands were tied. Endless investigations into Russia’s 2016 deeds diverted his, and the nation’s, attention from Russia’s current moves.
Now that special counsel Robert Mueller has cleared him of conspiring with the Kremlin, it’s time Trump — and Congress and everyone else — refocus on Russia’s global menace.
It’s time to shake off the 2016 hangover and allow a real strategy to take shape.
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