There is a strangely retrograde quality to Barack Obama’s speech at Moscow’s New Economic School. Charles Krauthammer detects “a Kissingerian air” at the signing ceremony on the arms reduction agreement signing ceremony in Moscow.
Although Obama acknowledges the end of the Cold War in his Moscow speech, he is thrilled to revive Cold War arms control. He can’t wait to renege on George Bush’s commitment to provide missile defense to Europe. He projects “a strong and vibrant Russia” in the future and encourages Russia to “take its rightful place as a great power.”
Russia, however, is a wreck. It can continue to cause trouble to its neighbors and to the United States, and nothing Obama did this week will inhibit it in the least. On the contrary. All in all, Kim Zigfeld characterizes the trip as “Obama’s Moscow retreat.”
Is Russia a great power, or in the process of becoming one? Reuben Johnson describes Russia’s lowly condition in the context of the obsequious behavior of Western leaders:
[I]f the Russian leadership is living in a fool’s paradise, western nations have been the worst sort of enablers. Collectively they have outdone themselves in obsequiousness by granting Russia membership in international organizations and seats on major multinational bodies that it has no business even being considered for.
As a gesture of goodwill, although it didn’t meet the qualifications at the time, in 1998 the G7 group of industrialized nations was made the G8 in order to include Russia. Eight years later in 2006, the G8 examined Russia’s qualifications for membership. The resulting audit reads like Delta Fraternity brother John Blutarsky’s (played by the late John Belushi) mid-term grade points in the National Lampoon film “Animal House.”
The report gives scores from 1 to “broad compliance with G8 norms,” to the failing mark of 5, which means “total failure to comply with G8 norms.” Ratings are given not just for economic performance, but also for “openness and freedom of speech, political governance, rule of law, social capital, economic weight in the world, inflation, economic stability and solvency, unemployment, trade volume, level of protectionism, energy market conditions, and discernible stance on key international issues.”
Anyone with even a passing familiarity with today’s Russia will not be shocked to learn that the nation did not score above 3, which rates as “sporadic compliance with G8 norms,” in any category. The report’s key findings stated that “the size of Russia’s economy does not merit its inclusion in the G8; Russia is neither politically nor economically free; Russia’s presidency of the G8 is correspondingly anomalous; the other G8 nations must develop a concentrated policy to force [then-President] Putin to live up to his international obligations.” None of these indicators have changed since 2006, except possibly for the worse, so why is Russia still a G8 member?
Although not intended as a gloss on Obama’s Moscow speech, Johnson’s column usefully illuminates it.