Bush and Putin: Tougher Road Ahead?

From the December 12 Boston Globe:

A debate is brewing at the highest levels of the Bush administration over whether to adopt a tougher stance toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, who has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms and tried to snuff out democracy in weak neighboring states with little American opposition, according to US officials and policy analysts.

The recent standoff in Ukraine over a disputed election between a Soviet-style strongman, whom Putin has aggressively backed, and a reform-style candidate backed by a sea of protesters, has brought renewed calls for an overhaul of the US friendship with Putin.

Until now, US policy has been to largely forgive Russia’s attack on democracy, even as Putin moved to consolidate authoritarian rule not only in Russia but also in a federation of former Soviet states he is cobbling together, largely by force, according to regional specialists. But officials in the National Security Council and the State Department have begun discussing whether to recalibrate their approach to Putin…

Of course, this is the kind of thing Administrations sometimes leak on purpose, as a cost-free, utterly deniable, warning to a foreign leader that the U.S. President isn’t happy about something. Bush can’t be at all pleased with Putin, but who wants trouble with Russia? Plus, and somewhat ironically, given the nature of the U.S.-Russia relationship over the past 80-some years, the things Bush hopes Putin will do are actually the best ways to build and economically and socially strong Russia.

Too bad Putin increasingly seems to be putting his own interests and those of his cronies ahead of what is good for the Russian people.

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