The Trump administration claims it’s tough on Russia. Here’s a chance to show it.

August 17. Editorial

ROBERT C. O’BRIEN, the White House national security adviser, asserted recently that “no administration has been tougher on the Russians.” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on July 30 that “we’re the toughest administration ever on Russia.” They have one colleague, however, who has displayed no toughness toward Russian leader Vladimir Putin: President Trump. Now would be a good time for him firmly to discourage any Kremlin military intervention in Belarus.

Belarusan President Alexander Lukashenko’s theft of the Aug. 9 election, and his violent crackdown thereafter, has ignited a popular revolt, including strikes at the huge state enterprises. Even news broadcasters are on strike, demanding the right to tell the truth and calling for new elections. On Monday, the longtime autocrat suffered the indignity of being jeered off the stage by factory workers. In desperation, Mr. Lukashenko twice telephoned Mr. Putin over the weekend and claimed to receive statements of Kremlin support.

Mr. Trump, whose obsequiousness toward Mr. Putin remains a riddle, should make clear to him that this is not a moment to repeat Russia’s disastrous military intervention in Ukraine. Mr. Putin may not need much convincing. Surely, he would like Belarus to remain under Russia’s wing, and he has a strong allergy to any display of popular will. But Mr. Putin’s own political standing inside Russia is weak — witness the mass protests in recent weeks in Khabarovsk — and he hardly needs more discontent at home. Any military intervention would require a large commitment of forces and face popular resistance. Mr. Putin seems to have little personal affinity for Mr. Lukashenko, who has always tried to play Russia against the West. Still, the situation in Belarus has no easy answers for Mr. Putin: He does not want to embrace a flailing and failing dictator, but nor can he welcome an example of democratic success on Russia’s border.

Meanwhile, U.S. leaders are responding to the upheaval in Belarus with excessive timidity. Perhaps Mr. Pompeo remains nostalgic for his Feb. 1 trip to Minsk, where he sought to coax Mr. Lukashenko into leaning a bit toward the West. Whatever the merits of the strategy then, it has now been vaporized. In Poland on Saturday at a news conference with Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz, Mr. Pompeo said “we urge the leadership of Belarus to broaden the circle” and “to engage with civil society in a way that reflects the central understandings that the Belarusan people are demanding.” But Mr. Lukashenko’s moment for “broadening the circle” has passed. The popular revolt in Belarus should result in the peaceful transfer of power to those who won the election, led by opposition candidate Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, followed by releasing political prisoners, lifting all restraints on free expression and holding truly free and fair elections.

9 comments

  • Well, you gotta give credit where credit is due. The Trump admin has certainly been tougher than Obumer’s. But, compared to what Reagan would have done, the Trumpet is still too soft. McCain too would have been much tougher.

    Liked by 4 people

    • The GOP is supportive of Ukraine, but the problem is ‘Mr. Trump, whose obsequiousness toward Mr. Putin remains a riddle……’
      If Luka is arrested, his stolen cash and assets seized and a democratic government that reflects the wishes of the people somehow gets installed peacefully, then it will show that the Trump administration has managed to convince the rodent that another invasion won’t be tolerated.
      Even if that miracle happens, that will still leave the occupation of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia to be ended.
      Even if Tsikhanouskaya or her husband takes office, it is far from clear whether they want to leave putler’s orbit.
      Still a mountain to climb…

      Liked by 4 people

      • Indeed, there are many questions still open. The situation in Belarus is quite a bit more complicated than what it was during the Maidan – minus the oligarch facet.

        Liked by 2 people

  • The West on the whole have been very timid towards Muscovy and Belarus. Even us dumbasses on here can see the next move coming, but the powers to be are hoping by sticking their collective heads in the sand, Muscovy won’t invade Belarus. What has Putin got to lose, he knows the jellyfish won’t do anything, he’ll turn the gas off this winter. The US and UK have shown little appetite to confront the dwarf for some strange reason, the UK especially, have plenty of reasons to take a tough stance with Muscovy.

    Liked by 4 people

    • From the Ukrainian perspective, they know what to expect from yet another putler invasion, but they will be trying to ascertain what a govt run by Siarhei Tsikhanouski or his wife would look like. The only thing that can be confirmed is that they are against the proposed putlerstan-Belarus union. But will they be any more friendly to Ukraine or less friendly to the putinazis? Their economy is fully integrated with Russia.

      Liked by 4 people

      • I believe these protesters just want Lukashenko out of their lives. They will never get a true democracy with Russia interfering at every turn, and Russia has a lot of leverage over Belarus if it tries to move away from it’s orbit.

        Liked by 4 people

  • Will Trump parole Snowden today? Stay tuned.

    Liked by 2 people

  • Trump is not obsequious to Putin. That word does not mean what you seem to think it does. It’s a silly accusation.

    I do agree Trump could do more to crack down on Putin, and wish he would do it.

    Liked by 1 person

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