Con­fus­ing Vladimir Putin with the old Soviet threat

De­mo­niz­ers of Rus­sia for­get what ac­tual dan­ger looked like

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By David A. Keene

We seem pre­pared to be­lieve any evil of Vladimir Putin’s Rus­sia, which has with its sec­ond-rate mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment and fail­ing econ­omy some­how mor­phed in the minds of many Amer­i­cans into a greater threat than the old Soviet Union. Hil­lary Clin­ton and John Podesta are con­vinced Mr. Putin cost her the White House and that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump might as well be work­ing for the Krem­lin. The CIA tells us that Rus­sian-spon­sored hack­ers are re­spon­si­ble for all man­ner of sins and did, in fact, hack into Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee emails even while be­ing re­buffed by se­cu­rity mea­sures in place at the Repub­li­can Na­tional Com­mit­tee.

Pres­i­dent Obama doesn’t like Mr. Putin, although it’s un­clear whether he has him above or be­low Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter on his per­sonal en­e­mies list. His re­tal­i­a­tion against Rus­sia for its “in­ter­fer­ence” in last Novem­ber’s elec­tions was wel­comed by his al­lies in the me­dia and by sen­a­tors like Ari­zona’s John McCain and his South Carolina side­kick Lind­sey Gra­ham as a good start. All seem fear­ful that a Pres­i­dent Trump, upon be­ing sworn in later this month, might ac­tu­ally try to ease ten­sions they want in­creased.

In this drive to fur­ther de­mo­nize Mr. Putin’s Rus­sia, they will ap­par­ently be­lieve any­thing and have be­come the na­tion’s No. 1 spreader of that hated “fake news.” When Mr. Obama tossed a num­ber of Rus­sians out of the coun­try to re­tal­i­ate for Rus­sian hack­ing, CNN ex­cit­edly an­nounced that the Rus­sian gov­ern­ment had closed an ex­clu­sive, pri­vate An­glo-Amer­i­can school in Moscow, a story picked up by dozens of other news out­lets and re­broad­cast by our gov­ern­ment’s Ra­dio Free Europe. The source, ac­cord­ing to CNN, was a “U.S. gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial,” but the story was pure bunkum.

A few days later, an­other ma­jor story made the rounds, al­leg­ing that the Rus­sians had “hacked” into the U.S. power grid in Ver­mont and could wreak real havoc on the na­tional grid as a re­sult. Turns out that story, too, was false. In­tel­li­gence ex­perts around the world jumped all over the re­ports and it was later learned that while there was a smidgen of ev­i­dence that some­one had at some time tried to hack a lap­top owned by an em­ployee of the Ver­mont util­ity, the util­ity and the grid were not hacked.

It’s time for ev­ery­one to chill as, to his credit, Mr. Putin seems to be do­ing. Early threats from the Rus­sian For­eign Min­istry that Rus­sia was go­ing to re­tal­i­ate by throw­ing out U.S. diplo­matic em­ploy­ees on a “tit-for-tat” ba­sis and close a U.S. gov­ern­ment-owned prop­erty in Moscow were ap­par­ently coun­ter­manded by Mr. Putin him­self, who seems for his own rea­sons ready to ease rather than in­crease ten­sion with the United States.

Mr. Putin is no Thomas Jef­fer­son. He is an in­ter­nally pop­u­lar Rus­sian na­tion­al­ist who runs what is, by U.S. stan­dards, a crony cap­i­tal­ist au­toc­racy and has acted in­ter­na­tion­ally in ways that de­serve con­dem­na­tion, but he is nei­ther Hitler nor Stalin.

As much as some in Wash­ing­ton like to com­pare to­day’s Rus­sia with the old Soviet Union, the two are very, very dif­fer­ent. Mr. Putin may be a mod­ern-day Rus­sian czar, but he does not head a regime wed­ded to an ide­ol­ogy

It would be a mis­take to con­clude that Moscow’s his­tor­i­cally typ­i­cal med­dling in its own neigh­bor­hood makes it as great a threat to us and our in­ter­ests as the old Soviet Union.

bent upon dom­i­nat­ing and trans­form­ing the world into its own im­age. It was the quasi-re­li­gious be­lief of Soviet ide­o­logues that the Com­mu­nist utopia they sought could not be com­pleted un­til they con­trolled all the world’s peo­ple that made the Soviet Union an ex­is­ten­tial threat to the rest of us.

We may not like Mr. Putin or his gov­ern­ment, but as for­mer Czech Pres­i­dent Va­clav Klaus put it dur­ing a re­cent visit to Wash­ing­ton, a na­tion and its lead­ers may be de­testable with­out be­ing dan­ger­ous. Mr. Putin’s Rus­sia is a real and present dan­ger to Ukraine and is a po­ten­tial threat to others on Rus­sia’s bor­der who have per­haps less to worry about now than they did when Rus­sia was Com­mu­nist, but as much as dur­ing the pre-Soviet era. Many of th­ese coun­tries de­serve our sup­port, but it would be a mis­take to con­clude that Moscow’s his­tor­i­cally typ­i­cal med­dling in its own neigh­bor­hood makes it as great a threat to us and our in­ter­ests as the old Soviet Union.

Still, many in the West seem to long for the bipo­lar world that ex­isted be­fore the col­lapse of the Soviet Em­pire. Ev­ery­one knew their en­emy and played by a set of harsh, but know­able rules. The nu­clear face off that used to scare ev­ery­one seems sta­ble in light of what’s hap­pened since, and even the most bru­tal of the old Soviet dic­ta­tors seem pos­i­tively ra­tio­nal next to the folks we have to deal with in the Mid­dle East and else­where th­ese days.

That, how­ever, is not the world we find our­selves in to­day. There are new mon­sters out there and we need to fo­cus on the threats they pose rather than wish­ing for the re­turn of those al­ready slain. David A. Keene is Opin­ion edi­tor of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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