- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2001

Swallow your pride, Mr. Putin.As part of his misguided campaign to restore national pride and international prominence, Russian President Vladimir Putin met last week with Iranian President Mohammed Khatami, and formalized an arms and nuclear sales agreement. Although the deal will energize Russia's defense industry, it will surely turn out just as badly as Mr. Putin's other endeavors to bolster Russia's honor, such as his assault on the freedom of the Russian press, the genocidal attack on Chechnya, and his alliance with some of the most brutal regimes in the world.

Although Russia grew an impressive 7 percent last year, thanks to a surge in the price of oil, it remains desperately strapped for cash. So Mr. Putin's pact with the Iranian regime is probably primarily motivated by financial considerations. But there is more to it than that.

In order to resurrect Russia's glory, Mr. Putin has been busily building a rogue's alliance, which includes North Korea, China, Cuba, Libya, Iraq and Iran, to defy what he calls America's "unipolar" geopolitical influence.

But this rogue's alliance won't rise to global prominence. And by selling arms and nuclear exports to a regime that brutally represses its own people and exports terror, Mr. Putin sullies Russia's prestige and will ultimately erode the national pride he is so keen to resuscitate. By uniting with such unsavory company, the Russian president demonstrates an equivocal appreciation of the value of democracy Russia beware.

Mr. Putin's other efforts to bolster his perception of national dignity will cause the country a great deal of trouble. A country combating Mafia-style corruption needs a strong, independent media to serve as watchdog. But in his attempts to muzzle any criticism, Mr. Putin has debilitated the press.

And his brutal attack on the Chechens has marred Russia's modern legacy and could cause considerable problems down the road. There are about 60 regions and republics in Russia today that enjoy a great deal of autonomy as a result of post-Soviet treaties. Mr. Putin's stated hostility towards these treaties could cause new, autonomy conflicts in the future. The president should strive to give these far-flung regions a reason to want to be part of Russia, rather than resort to the brutal coercion to which the Chechens have been subjected.

Economic development and strong democratic institutions are the surest means of instilling` national pride in Russians. When the people can find good jobs and have enough money to feed and provide clothing for their families, when they can rely on a fair court system and benefit from an independent press, then they will feel truly proud to be Russians. To achieve this, Mr. Putin must go through the methodical process of reform, which will yield immeasurable benefits in the long run, but which lacks the political allure of a rogue's alliance.


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