Vladimir Putin’s blustery State of the Nation address Thursday threw red meat to the sensationalist, corrupt Western media, hungry for anything to paint the Kremlin as the archenemy of the United States.
The Russian president’s firebrand of a speech inspired memories of Nikita Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table at the United Nations. Mr. Putin boasted of Russia’s vast array of new nuclear weapons, which he called unstoppable, and threatened to use them if Russia’s allies were threatened, in a response to the Trump administration’s tough stand toward North Korea.
The former KGB agent certainly has brought his nation back from the brink of irrelevance on the geopolitical stage. “Russia is great again” was the unmistakable message he meant to convey.
“Despite all the economic, financial and defense issues that we faced, Russia has been and still is the biggest nuclear power. Back then, no one wanted to have substantive talks with us. No one was listening. So listen now,” Mr. Putin declared.
But listen to the whole speech and to Mr. Putin’s words with an ear to history — the blustery oratory was designed to cover up weakness, not to show strength.
Mr. Putin is famous for his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, but that memory can work both ways. I’m sure the Russian president remembers very well Ronald Reagan’s demand to “tear down this wall,” the intermediate-range nukes deployed in Europe over the rabid protests of the “nuclear freeze” left and the “Star Wars”-inspired arms race that wound up bankrupting the USSR.
Perhaps a sense of deja vu has crept into the Kremlin’s thinking. It is obvious that the Russian military is worried about America’s missile defense, worried about an arms race it can’t win, and worried about Mr. Trump’s unpredictability and determination to rearm the depleted U.S. military.
The Trump administration’s new defense policy, lowering the bar for use of tactical nuclear weapons, was in direct response to Russia’s fielding of Iskander nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad and elsewhere. Mr. Trump understands all too well that what really works in the “Great Game” of geopolitics is deterrence. President Obama never got it. In fact, he believed in appeasement, and his reward was the eruption of crises in Syria, Crimea and eastern Ukraine.
Yes, Russia has a formidable nuclear force. Air Force Gen. John Hyten, the U.S. Strategic Command commander, recently observed, “Russia is the most significant threat just because they pose the only existential threat to the country right now. So we have to look at that from that perspective.”
But the Russian economy underwriting that military might is weak and could soon get much weaker. Top-down management, either from a Communist Politburo or from a more modern collection of oligarchs, doesn’t work in the long term. It can’t provide the kind of growth a population needs to build a healthy future. Reliance of oil and gas revenue has shown to be a failed strategy. Western sanctions are not going away anytime soon. Social services have been cut to fund military adventures abroad.
Mr. Putin acknowledged as much during his remarks Thursday. He discussed the demographic problems facing the Russian Federation. He discussed the need for social spending to raise the standard of living, the need to develop technologies and diversify the Russian economy, the need to lower the poverty rate.
Mr. Putin played a weak hand extremely well during the Obama years. He rebuilt Moscow’s influence in its “near abroad” and in the Middle East, a Russian sandbox coveted from the days of the czars.
However, there is a new administration in charge in Washington, one determined to make America great again, no matter who gets in the way.
It’s election time in Moscow. Mr. Putin will be almost surely win a fourth term in the March 18 vote. Perhaps it’s time for all of this Russia hatred, the hysteria in the West, to end, and our two leaders to build trust, sit down, and make the world a safer place for Russians and Americans.
Mr. Trump was right on Russia. It’s time the Left realized that as well.
⦁ L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.