The Corner


A Spokesman Speaks

Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesman, in March 2018 (State Department)

Ahead of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration — how strange to use that term about a dictatorship — the political opposition rallied across Russia. Some protesters said they had been inspired by Armenians, who poured into the streets to protest their own would-be Putin, ultimately securing his resignation. In Russia, some 2,000 people were arrested, some of them violently. Among those arrested were children or adolescents, resulting in some shocking photos. (See this tweet from Garry Kasparov, for example.)

I discuss this in my Impromptus today. I also make the following point: “Foreigners say that Putin is popular among Russians. Funny, but he doesn’t act like it. A leader confident of his popularity would allow peaceful rallies. He would not ban a free press, or rig elections, or imprison critics (or exile them or murder them).”

Here on the Corner, let me salute Heather Nauert, the State Department spokesman. She tweeted, “The United States condemns #Russia’s detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters and calls for their immediate release. Leaders who are secure in their own legitimacy don’t arrest their peaceful opponents for protesting.”

Yes, yes. That’s the way an American official should talk, in my opinion.

Last month, President Trump issued a different tweet. He said, “Much of the bad blood with Russia is caused by the Fake & Corrupt Russia Investigation, headed up by the all Democrat loyalists, or people that worked for Obama.”

As I see it, there is bound to be some “bad blood” between a dictatorship and a great liberal democracy. Putin’s Russia has invaded its neighbors. Rehearsed nuclear strikes against NATO countries. Interfered in American elections. Killed critics, including investigative journalists. And so on.

Getting along in the world, and keeping the peace, requires all kinds of compromises and nose-holding. Dealing with bad actors is much of what diplomacy is about. But America can still remember that it stands for something in the world, and, again, I salute Heather Nauert.

P.S. While I’m at it, let me salute the Washington Post editorial page, under the leadership of Fred Hiatt. They are tenacious on issues of freedom, democracy, and human rights. Yesterday, they had an editorial on Liu Xia, widow of Liu Xiaobo, the great and martyred Chinese dissident (and Nobel peace laureate). Hiatt follows in the footsteps of Meg Greenfield — about whom Charles Krauthammer once told me something. She wanted regular editorials and columns about Sakharov, in the hope that this would help keep him alive. If you have a megaphone — and the Post does — use it, damn it.


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