Forsaking good sportsmanship, Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin yesterday ridiculed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s lack of success in Moscow in getting agreement on Iranian sanctions. Speaking in Beijing, he said, “There is no need to frighten the Iranians. We need to look for a compromise. If that is not found . . . then we will see.”
In this statement, Putin’s supposed concern for Iranian fearfulness — a quality they have not manifested during six years of openly developing nuclear weapons — is really a veiled way of ridiculing the naïveté of U.S. officials in a fashion that Putin is sure that they will not understand.
Unfortunately, he is almost certainly right. Unnoticed amid the attention given to Clinton’s failure in Moscow to win cooperation on Iran were discussions in two other areas that testify to the hopeless lack of seriousness of the U.S. side. These were the discussion of plans for a joint U.S.-Russian ballistic missile defense, apparently to protect against the Iranian weapons whose development Russia is facilitating, and a new take on human rights in which the U.S. will curb its public criticisms of violations. Symbolic of the latter is the new U.S.-Russian working group on civil society which is headed on the Russian side by Vladislav Surkov, a Kremlin ideologist who developed the idea of “sovereign democracy,” which differs from democracy in that it precludes a role for civil society.
U.S. officials are showing that they truly have learned nothing from the past. Anton Orekh, a leading Moscow commentator, said that the Obama administration “has decided to conduct its relations with [Russia] as it did with the Soviet Union,” avoiding criticism and seeking Russian cooperation. Unfortunately, unilateral concessions by the U.S. and the absence of criticism will be treated by the Russians as a sign of weakness and an invitation to new adventures at the expense of persons they do not respect.
— David Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. His latest book is Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State.