The call of Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) for the Bush Administration to boycott the upcoming G-8 summit in Russia was not heeded.
I've heard people say this is regrettable. It's an understatement.
Stripped by the Kremlin of viable democratic institutions, its media muzzled, autocratic Russia is sliding into fascism while President Vladimir Putin is scheming to use this slide to perpetuate his rule of the country's corrupt elite.
It is clear that the Bush Administration lacks the pluck to admit that its Russian policy has failed. Russia has succeeded in preventing U.N. sanctions against Iran, which is going on with its nuclear weapons program in defiance of international agreements.
This is the worst possible time to allow Mr. Putin to blackmail the United States and its allies in G-7 (as in G-8 minus Russia) by playing the Iranian card.
Presiding at G-8 in St. Petersburg will encourage the president of Russia - which has a multibillion dollar interest in the Iranian atomic projects and thus leverage with Iran - to continue its policy of blackmail. It will also propel Russia in its slide toward fascism.
Moreover, U.S. bashing with undertones of anti-Semitism is commonplace in Russia's mainstream media.
Turning the other cheek now will be construed by the Kremlin - which is basking in oil dollars and losing its touch to reality - as a sign of weakness.
In the short run, such a sign of weakness will further damage U.S. standing in the Middle East. In the long run, it will help ensure Mr. Putin's stay in power beyond the expiration of his second (and constitutionally last) presidential term in 2008.
President Putin has successfully exploited Russians' proverbial xenophobia and their disillusionment with democracy. Russians mix up crony capitalism with true democratic change.
Moreover, the Kremlin has used Russia's oil export revenue as a collateral for its promises to finally give the Russian poor a break. At the same time, it has used the Russian neo-Nazis as a convenient red herring, drawing attention away from its own trespasses.
Here is Mr. Putin's message to the Russians: "It's either me or them. It's your choice."
As a result, 60 percent of Russians want the constitution changed to allow Mr. Putin to remain in office for a third four-year term.
The danger is that he is espousing essentially the same ideology as the Russian neo-Nazis do. If he goes further down that road, the only way for him to control the rising fascism in Russia will be to head it.
Considering that Russia still has more nuclear weapons than any other nation in the world, Washington would do well not to take this threat lightly. You don't want the St. Petersburg G-8 summit to embolden the Kremlin the way the Munich Agreement emboldened Nazi Germany.
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