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Russia Talks Peace, then Ships Missiles

Watching Russia these days, it feels like Cold War déjà vu.

Not only is President Vladimir Putin growing ever more authoritarian with each passing day, but relations between Moscow and Washington are quickly deteriorating.

As examples, last week Russia expelled an American lawyer who is a former Justice Department official, apparently because he turned down a request to become a spy for the Russian government.

Just a few days later Russian security services also expelled Ryan Fogle, a 29-year-old US Embassy officer, accusing him of trying to recruit a Russian counterterrorism officer as a spy—someone knowledgeable about the North Caucasus region, where the alleged Boston Marathon bombers came from.

At almost the same time, on May 20th, the Putin administration began an effort to shut down the Levada Center, Russia’s only independent public-opinion polling organization—all because the public’s opinion, as the pollsters found, was turning against the Kremlin. The government labeled Levada “a foreign agent” because some American foundations including the Open Society Institute are among its funding sources.

All this is causing unrest with Russia not just in Washington but in a variety of Western capitals. For example, the Russian government wrote a letter to the Irish Parliament a few weeks ago warning that Moscow would end discussions of a cross-border adoptions agreement if the legislature went through with a motion to sanction Russia officials for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the lawyer who died in a Russian jail after uncovering fraud among state officials.

The sanctions proposal was similar to one the United States enacted last year, prompting Russia to prohibit American adoptions of Russian children and forbid 18 present and former American officials from traveling to Russia.

In Ireland’s case, Parliament backed down.

For most countries, however, Moscow’s most troubling decisions of late involve Syria. Early this month, Secretary of State John Kerry visited Moscow primarily to discuss the Syrian civil war. So far, close to 80,000 people have died there, but Moscow still provides Damascus with advanced weaponry and unremitting support.

Well, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov announced they would hold an international conference intended to end the Syrian war. That seemed like a possible breakthrough. But rather than using his strong leverage to bring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table, instead Putin sent him a passel of advanced anti-ship cruise missiles—along with promises of more surface-to-air missiles.

A few days after receiving the new weapons, Assad, in an interview with Argentina’s Clarín newspaper, said he thought arranging a peace conference was a pointless endeavor.

“We do not believe many Western countries actually want a solution in Syria,” Assad said, because those very countries “support the terrorists” who, he says, are at war with him.

So the peace-conference plan is stalled. Thanks to President Putin.

 

Photo Credit: www.kremlin.ru

 

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