Putin wins againRebuilding imperial Russia
Last Updated: 7:41 AM, April 17, 2010
Jeez, this guy is good.
A few years back, I wrote that Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was the most impressive major leader on today's world stage. Since then, he's gotten better.
Back then, he was eating President George W. Bush for breakfast. Now he's snacking on President Obama as sushi -- eating him raw, in happy little bites.
Putin's ruthless, unforgiving and murderous. He also has a clear vision of what he wants, the strength of will to get it -- and a stunning ability to spot the weaknesses in his foreign counterparts.
Putin's the Evil Empire's belated answer to President Ronald Reagan. Where the Gipper focused uncompromisingly on bringing down the Soviet imperium, Putin focuses uncompromisingly on restoring imperial Russia.
And he's making progress, as US leaders and their advisers bumble and stumble along with neither a clear strategic vision nor a rational sense of foreign-policy priorities.
Putin doesn't seem like a man much given to hilarity, but he must be laughing his butt off at our incompetence. Consider his strategic achievements in just the last few months:
* He cunningly let Obama bamboozle himself into a gotta-have-it-now Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty that damages US conventional capabilities while Russia gives up only old junk it needed to dump anyway.
* He cut another arms deal with Hugo Chavez, selling the unstable Venezuelan 5 billion more bucks' worth of weapons -- on top of 4 billion already contracted. It's an unprecedented armament program for South America, supporting Chavez's bellicose "Bolivarian" goal of "re-uniting" Venezuela and Colombia.
* Putin finally got his pawn into power in Ukraine, erasing the westward orientation of yesteryear's Orange Revolution. Bringing Ukraine back inside Russia's borders remains Putin's top priority. He just took a giant step toward achieving it.
* Putin also drew Kazakhstan -- the keystone Central Asian state and a major energy supplier -- closer to Moscow.
* Last week, Putin supported the overthrow of the US-backed government of Kyrgyzstan, tightening his chokehold on our northern supply route into Afghanistan. The Obama administration was utterly blindsided ("Where's Kyrgyzstan?").
* The crash of an aircraft carrying Poland's fiercely anti-Russian president and his key advisers may have been just amazingly good luck on Putin's part, but it's the kind of luck to which we should pay attention. Russia's neighbors certainly have.
* Domestically, Putin continued extending his control over the economy and the media. (What, no protests from Western journalistic colleagues?) An artful sniper, not a clumsy bomber, he kills or imprisons when "necessary," but doesn't purge the Russian masses. (The only problem he hasn't been able to hammer down has been domestic Islamist terrorism -- where he meets his match in strength of will.)
* On Iran, Putin's a savvy old tomcat toying with the Obama mouse. While Moscow's overt, covert and clandestine trade with Tehran continues, Putin does his good-cop/bad-cop routine with President Dmitry Medvedev, keeping hope alive in the White House that, this time, Russia will finally back meaningful sanctions. Sarah Palin will sign on with Code Pink first.
Meanwhile, our president continues to play into Putin's hands. At this week's Nuclear Vanity Summit (which accomplished nothing), Obama snubbed Georgia's president, Mikhail Saakashvili. Putin will read that as license to renew his aggression against the struggling democracy in Tbilisi (first Kyrgyzstan, then Georgia?). Obama had time for Putin's Ukrainian puppet, President Viktor Yanukovych, though.
And all the while the administration's fighting Russia's drug war in Afghanistan while snoozing through the narco-bloodbath on our own southern border.
A major test for Obama comes this Sunday, when our president will pay our respects at the Krakow funeral of Poland's freedom-loving president. If Obama allows himself to be photographed smoking and joking with Putin or Medvedev at a Polish grave, it'll send a horrible signal throughout a region that only escaped Moscow's terror two decades ago.
Putin's certainly not a good man. But he is a great man -- perhaps the most capable national leader of our time. He's also a very dangerous man.
The really bad news? I can't spot a single potential president in either of our political parties who'd be a match for the guy.
It's heartbreaking when an old KGB hand consistently triumphs over the products of the mediocrity mills our moribund political parties have become.
Ralph Peters' new book is "Endless War."