The environmentalist group Greenpeace is in luck. Russian commandos boarded its vessel Arctic Sunrise as it protested Russia’s drilling in the Arctic, and a Russian court detained its international crew for two months, pending piracy charges.
Now, Greenpeace couldn’t have dreamt of a better outcome. From now on, no civilized government would dare arrest its members. Because doing so would instantly make its leaders members of an international rogue gallery.
True, President Vladimir Putin has declared that Greenpeace is not pirates. But, given that Russian courts are at his beck and call and the episode took place near the oil rig owned by state-run natural gas behemoth Gazprom, who would believe that Russia’s political supremo was not the one detaining them?
Putin has gotten on the international community’s nerves quite a bit lately.
His courts sentenced members of a female punk group Pussy Riot to two years of hard labor for performing in a church and are currently trying opposition figures on a variety of trumped-up charges. His rubber-stamp parliament, the Duma, has passed laws making gays second-class citizens.
And now, he’s tangled with the environmentalists. Not surprisingly, an association with Putin is a kiss of death for a democratic politician.
No wonder President Obama is so visibly leery of working with Putin even though the goal of their cooperation – to rid Syria of chemical weapons without resorting to military strikes – is a worthy one. Getting too close to Putin could smear him in the eyes of the right and the left both in the United States and around the world.
The difference this time around
Is Russia once again, to quote Ronald Reagan, the Evil Empire? Is it the Cold War over again?
Well, during the Cold War, US strategy assumed that the Russian people were not the enemy – the Soviet government was. The West believed that free flow of information would be the death knell for communism, and once the apparatchiks were gone Russia would join the community of nations.
There’s a difference this time around. Now, thanks to Putin, his repressive policies and anti-Western and, specifically, anti-American rhetoric, the Russian people has been placed in opposition to the rest of the world, becoming, in effect, a pariah nation.
Yet, while Russia’s government-owned media rants and raves against the West and its liberal values, Putin and his closest associates keep their assets abroad. Their kids study and live in Europe and the United States. One of Putin’s daughter lives in the Netherlands, where his visits are now greeted by huge rallies protesting Russia’s anti-gay laws.
Alexei Bayer is a contributing editor of The Globalist. His debut novel, Murder at the Dacha, which is set in 1960s Moscow, was published in May.