Vladimir Putin has pummeled this administration from the get-go. Russia tried to subvert Iran sanctions. It has backed the butcher of Damascus to the hilt. It has repressed human rights to a degree not seen since the communists. (Today, a leading Russian dissident, Alexei Navalny, was sentenced to five years in prison on trumped-up embezzlement charges.) And of course, Putin holds Edward Snowden, taunting the United States and treating the traitor as if he were a human rights victim.
The administration has done very little about it. Congress had to force the administration’s hand on the Magnitsky amendment, enabling visa sanctions against Russians who participate in human rights abuses. Mostly, President Obama has rewarded Putin. We ushered Russia into the World Trade Organization. Obama congratulated Putin on his “victory,” in a rigged presidential election. And in Berlin he offered unilateral disarmament with the plea for Russia to follow his example.
When Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) suggested boycotting the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Olympic fans (and the International Olympic Committee) balked, unsurprisingly. But his sentiment was dead on: We need to demonstrate that there is a penalty to be paid for Russia’s egregious behavior.
The New York Times reports: “President Obama may cancel a scheduled trip to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin in September as the standoff over the fate of Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor seeking asylum there, takes its toll on already strained relations between the United States and Russia, officials said Thursday.” The report duly notes that “cancellation of the Moscow meeting would be seen as a direct slap at Mr. Putin.” Well, yes, that would be the point.
That there is any question about cancelling the president’s trip highlights how timid is this administration in dealing with the former KGB official. The president certainly shouldn’t give Putin a photo op by showing up in Russia. Moreover, he should drop any notion of unilateral nuclear disarmament and start holding the Russians accountable for its violations of existing arms agreements. And then he should look for other opportunities, economic and diplomatic, to express our displeasure with the Putin regime.
This is the administration that came into office crowing about its expertise in soft power. Great. Now’s the time to use it to communicate to the world’s biggest bully what it will take to attain good relations with the United States.