Vladimir Putin has no official opponent yet to accompany him on his planned victory march back into the Russian presidency next Marchquips John Vinocur in the International Herald Tribune, as he discusses the result of the Apologizer-in-Chief's "smart" diplomacy.
But from the look of things, he may be setting up Barack Obama as a notional fill-in.
…In terms of Russian politics and jacking up United Russia’s scores in the presidential election next year and in national legislative voting on Sunday, Mr. Obama and the United States were being held up to nationalist voters as the ugly opposition. This Russian audience (and plenty of foreigners, as well) has often heard from Mr. Putin, in line with a major policy speech he made in Munich in 2007, that an aggressive, overbearing United States is a central problem for the world.
… All the same, the threat to New Start is a first, endangering the arms treaty that Mr. Obama has called the most significant in two decades. The reverberations from the threat create a new mood of international tension going beyond a challenge to the wisdom of the administration’s reset with Russia and its insistence that Moscow is generally helpful.
Mr. Obama’s response? There has not been a word.
Rather, the White House staff has described as unfounded Russia’s concerns that the missile shield, designed as protection against Iranian nukes, could be used against Moscow’s ballistic missiles, and has repeated its willingness to discuss the matter.
Here are just a couple of Russian-made points of confrontation that are meeting with Mr. Obama’s silence: Russia’s continued supply of weapons to a murderous regime in Syria, and Russian leaders’ revived talk about targeting eventual U.S. missile-defense sites in Europe with its own weapons.
… Kurt Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO under both the Obama and Bush administrations, said: “If Putin wants to destroy missile defense, he can play the German card. That is, pushing Germany to resist it because, ‘If Russia is upset, the reason is NATO and the United States are doing something wrong.’ Putin did it in 2007 with some success, and he can make that move again anytime.”… In her Senate confirmation hearing in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, speaking of what appeared to be Russia’s goal to create a Europe dependent on Gazprom’s natural gas exports, said, “It is certainly a security challenge that we ignore at our peril.”
These days, while Germany has chosen to abandon nuclear energy, a major German utility is currently negotiating a deal with Gazprom that would give Russia a foothold in Europe’s downstream business, and Gazprom is achieving end-user access through its first purchase of a German supplier. The French energy consulting firm Capgemini estimates that Russia’s present 26 percent share of the European Union’s natural gas supply will be 50 percent by 2030.
… Against this background, and with Mr. Putin’s government needling Mr. Obama with threats about renouncing New Start, can Mr. Obama respond in a way that both better defines the Russian leadership the United States is dealing with and makes clear that the U.S. president is not a pushover for it?
A possibly effective method might be Mr. Obama telling the world what he has left unsaid but what is obvious and incontrovertible: that the “election” returning Mr. Putin to the presidency is an opaque exercise that the United States, for the sake of the Russian people and their human rights, bemoans — or, even more to the point, condemns.
I asked David Kramer, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for human rights, and now president of Freedom House, an organization that supports the global expansion of freedom, whether he thought such a declaration was likely. His answer: not very.
“Beyond a speech in 2009 by President Obama, he personally has shown almost no interest in the human rights situation in Russia,” he said. “When the United States says something, Russians particularly care who is saying it — and it hasn’t been the president.”