Con: Expanding trade with Russia now will only strengthen Putin’s iron grip
President Obama in his efforts to cozy up to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin wants Congress to remove most restrictions on trade with Russia.
Like so many of Obama’s initiatives, his latest Russia move seems naive because Russia will get all the benefits of free trade in the U.S. market, but American companies may have to wait his whim before he removes Russia’s harrowing trade barriers.
Moreover, Obama cannot ignore the importance of human rights Americans hold dear at home and expect respect from abroad.
Putin presides over a government that seems incapable of finding the murders of Russian journalists and frequently dispatches political opponents to the Gulag Archipelago.
Then there is Putin’s opposition to key United States global policy objectives—chief among them constructing an effective defense against terrorism and ballistic missiles.
A former KGB officer assigned to oppressing East Germans, Putin is no fan of democracy or civil liberties. Nor, from his recent actions, is he much of an admirer of Obama.
Consider these examples: Putin threatens to aim nuclear war heads at U.S. allies in Europe unless the United States drops all plans for a defensive shield from Iranian missiles.
Obama already has scrapped the NATO-approved missile shield agreement that was to be built in Poland and the Czech Republic. His predecessor George W. Bush negotiated and signed the purely defensive deal, but Prague and Warsaw remain as Putin’s nuclear targets.
The ironic sum of it is: Obama blinked and may have bought himself a slew of Democrats of Polish and Czech extraction who may vote Republican in November.
In recent months, Putin has not only opposed ever effort by the global community to intervene in Syria and stop Bashar al-Assad from slaughtering thousands of his own people. Now he is in the process of delivering Russian assault helicopters at al-Assad.
As Middle East expert Lawrence J. Haas recently noted: Al-Assad’s survival “will mark a major victory for Washington’s key adversaries—the autocrats of Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran who fear that the Arab Spring and other democratic uprisings will incite unrest in their own countries.”
Not only did Putin block such humanitarian responses, he directly shipped even more Russian arms to al-Assad and sent additional weapons to Iran for trans-shipment to Damascus. In addition, Russia has supplied Iran’s theocratic despots with key components and materials they desperately need to make nuclear warheads despite their many threats to use them against Israel.
Obama had to be dragged by France and Britain to join the NATO intervention in Libya and it should not surprise anyone that he is mainly silent about Syria—leaving Secretary of State Hillary Clinton frustrated and embarrassed.
Now Obama wants to award Putin by giving him normal international trade relations. What’s in it for the USA? Not much!
William H. Cooper, a congressional research specialist in international trade, reported last January that despite some recent expansion the flow of trade and investment between Russia remains very low.
Or as Kempton Jenkins, assistant deputy Secretary of Commerce, for East-West trade told Soviet negotiators before the Berlin Wall crumbled in 1989 “we do more business with Canada on a Saturday morning than with the Soviet Union in a year.”
Not that much has changed. Business groups forever dream of huge exports to Russia. Is that realistic? Hardly! Just the other day, Putin told the world he wants vastly expanded trade with China.
Obama, who wants Russia in the World Trade Organization without a quid pro quo, apparently wants to believe that the audacity of hope will turn Putin into an honest player on the world stage.
Bogdan Kipling is a Canadian journalist in Washington. Readers may write him c/o the National Press Club front desk, 13th floor, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20045; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.