The Corner

Negotiating with the KGB?

Pres. Obama’s suggestion, in a letter to Russian president Medvedev, that the U.S. missile-defense system in Eastern Europe could be abandoned in exchange for Russian help in ending the threat from Iran is disturbing less for its content than for its readiness to take Russian statements literally.

From the day Obama took office, Russian leaders have been orchestrating a propaganda campaign against the missile shield consisting of intimidation — like their threat to deploy short-range Iskander-M missiles in the Kaliningrad region — and false logic — like their assertion that the shield, whose ten missiles in Poland would be helpless against Russian ICBMs, threatens Russia.

In fact, Russia has no intention of ending its support for Iran or of desisting from its campaign against the missile shield. Support for Iran increases Russia’s international leverage and shields it from human-rights criticism. The campaign against the shield, which almost no one in Russia understands, helps the Russian leaders to foster an atmosphere of threat to consolidate their hold on power.

Obama may have good intentions, but good intentions are appreciated only by countries whose intentions are also good. This is not the case with present-day Russia. Until there is a change in Russia sufficient to make its leaders less afraid of their own people, taking Russian propaganda statements literally is a distraction that the U.S. needs to avoid.

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.

David Satter has written four books about Russia, including, most recently, The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship under Yeltsin and Putin, now available in paperback. He is the only American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War.