Day: August 21, 2016

Trump needs Putin

Among the many depressing things in today’s world, two stood out for me today concerning Russia: Denis Sokolov blames Russian state repression for much of the radicalization in the North Caucasus; Andrew Kramer reports on the murder of Russian dissidents, whistle blowers, and potential witnesses in court cases.

Displacement, originally due to economic circumstances, and reduced restrictions on religion in the post-Soviet period are important ingredients in the North Caucasus, where the often violent and indiscriminate actions of the authorities are generating an extremist backlash. Real radicals of course do exist among Chechens, Dagestanis and Ingush. But the Russian government crackdown extends much further. Sokolov concludes:

Yet in truth, radical Islam in Russia, to the extent it exists, is the result of years of repressive Russian policies at the local and federal levels that at first pushed desperate people “into the woods” and are now pushing diverse people (veteran radicalized Russian Muslims, second-generation urban Muslims and newly converted ethnic Russians) through a pipeline of Russia’s own construction onto the battlefields of the Middle East.
Those tempted to ally with Russia in fighting Middle Eastern terrorism should pay heed. The potential ally may be doing more to generate the problem than fix it.
The state-sponsored murders are many and varied, both in their specific methods and the sort of people they target, but their overall intent is all too clear: to reduce challenges to President Putin and the hold he has on the Russian state. Poison seems to be the preferred modality, though shooting and other techniques are also used. Kramer makes the obligatory reference to US and Israeli targeting of individuals, but the Russian murders are obviously of a different kind: they target people for normal political activity and opinions, not for terrorist acts. As Kramer says,
No other major power employs murder as systematically and ruthlessly as Russia does against those seen as betraying its interests abroad. Killings outside Russia were even given legal sanction by the nation’s Parliament in 2006.

Applied most notoriously in the case of Alexander V. Litvinenko, a Putin opponent who died of polonium-210 poisoning in London in 2006, murders and deaths under mysterious circumstances are now seen as such a menace that Kremlin critics now often flee the country and keep their whereabouts secret.

This should shed an ominous light on Donald Trump’s proposal that we should just get along with Russia:

The trouble with joining Russia to knock the hell out of ISIS is that it will affiliate us both to Putin’s indiscriminate campaign against Muslims inside and outside Russia as well as to his blatant and worldwide use of murder as an instrument to reduce political challenges to his rule.

David Kramer argues correctly that Russia has returned to being a threat and should be treated like one. That does not rule out cooperation, in particular on reducing nuclear weapons and blocking nuclear proliferation as well as other issues. We cooperated on many things with Moscow even when it was the capital of  the Soviet Union. I have my doubts about cooperation in the Middle East though, and Putin has already made it clear he will not be America’s friend in Asia. Latin America and Africa have seen little of the Russians lately.

Julia Ioffe thinks Trump had lousy connections in Russia in the past, which explains why he was unable to do any serious business there. In my view he is feathering his nest for the future, when a loss November 8 will throw him back into a business world where he owes lots of money and will no longer be able to con American and Chinese banks into loaning him more. Who better to partner with then that those who tried to help him win the presidency by hacking Democratic Party emails? Trump needs Putin for more than political help.


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