July 24, 2007

Anne Applebaum’s bosom buddy, Nikita, is getting kicked out of his Moscow digs: the state-subsidized housing he lives in is being sold to private developers. You”€™d think that this would please the Americans, who have been lecturing the Russkis for ages about the virtues of privatization, but not in this case. Ms. Applembaum, you see, is a columnist for the Washington Post, and you don”€™t push her friends around so lightly. Nikita, it seems, is organizing a protest group among “€œthe remaining tenants to fight for their rights. The result: a rash of broken windows and a few break-ins. This, I repeat, is a state-owned building.”€

Oh, but it isn”€™t just Nikita, according to Ms. Applembaum:

“During this week I spent in Moscow, I heard a dozen more horror stories: My friends, their children, and their acquaintances all seemed to have suffered recently from freak accidents, tangles with Kafka-esque bureaucracy, major swindles. One had watched as trees were surreptitiously axed in a nearby public park. As for me, my wallet was stolen from my hotel room in the middle of the night, clearly an inside job.”

What to make of all this? After all, surely the theft of a Washington Post columnist’s wallet from a Russian hotel “€“ was it state-owned? “€“ is sufficient cause for an international incident, if not the return of the cold war. And, sure enough, that’s what we”€™re in for:

“€œMost of the stories had nothing to do with politics. But they illustrate something about contemporary Russia that we too rarely discuss: Putinism isn’t just a foreign-policy problem. The Russian president’s penchant for breaking weapons treaties, threatening small neighbors, disposing of his enemies, and spouting Cold War rhetoric creates dilemmas for the West. The lawlessness that pervades his country creates much worse dilemmas for ordinary Russians.”€

Whoever stole Ms. Applebaum’s wallet, obviously Putin’s to blame. And if you don”€™t believe that, you”€™re a shameless apologist for the Kremlin and no doubt a paid agent of the Russian state.

The rhetorical antics of the let’s-get-Putin crowd are getting more ridiculous as time goes on. Next they”€™ll be blaming him for global warming. The fact is the neocons hate Putin for a number of reasons: he objected to the invasion of Iraq, he’s arming Syria against Israeli and American threats of “€œregime change,”€ and he won”€™t go along with the plan to break up Iran. What’s more, he’s taken up the cudgels against American dominationism and warned that the US is making a big mistake in trying to extend NATO to the gates of Moscow.

If every petty crime that victimizes an American tourist and her friends is blamed on “€œPutinism,”€ then rational discourse is forever frozen out of US-Russian relations, and the language of a new cold war takes its place. Yes, that’s just what America needs right now: a new enemy. One armed with nuclear weapons, seething with resentment over the recent loss of its empire “€“ and nursing a growing grievance with American interference in its internal affairs.


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