Leader like Thatcher is needed to deal with Russia


The death of Margaret Thatcher last week brings to mind the value of a straightforward, forceful stance by a free world leader who calls a spade a spade, a friend a friend, a foe a foe, and does not mince words with them or indulge in wishful thinking.

As a university student in Moscow in the early 1980s, I used a short-wave transistor radio to listen to the news from London and Washington, D.C.

Some of those broadcasts detailed British Prime Minister Thatcher’s quest to reshape her own country and the joint support that she, like-minded U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and Pope John Paul II gave to the push for civil liberties in Poland, thus setting off the unraveling of the Soviet empire.

Her words counted and contrasted hugely with the lies of Soviet leaders.

This is why I and some fellow students gathered at night to listen to political broadcasts by the BBC and the Voice of America and then discussed them in groups, risking being denounced to authorities and getting expelled from the university.

Unfortunately, it is the absence of such leaders that has made the current poor state of international affairs and the reactive nature of the U.S. foreign policy possible.

The White House’s wishful thinking regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin and the failure to come out and call Russia an adversary and confront it politically and economically has failed to end Russia's continued spoilsport role in the world, namely in North Korea, Iran, and Syria.

Russia and North Korea have maintained a “Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighborly Relations, and Cooperation” since the beginning of the Putin reign in 2000.

All this time, Moscow has supported Syria and Iran politically, economically, and militarily.

As a result, we have genocide in Syria, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, and — according to an expert assessment released by the Pentagon last week — a threat of a nuclear missile attack by North Korea.

That's not to mention the situation in Russia itself, where the last vestiges of the civil society such as nongovernmental organizations get raided by police, investigative journalists get killed, and dissidents get jailed.

If you have any doubt that the relations between the United States and Russia have been adversarial, you need only to consider the continuing U.S.-Russian nuclear arms limitation negotiations, which — as experts have rightly noted — are only needed between adversaries who fear each other.

Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan pushed for civil societies in the Eastern Bloc even when the threat of a nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact was real.

The hope is that now — when a nuclear confrontation with Russia is far less probable — the White House focuses on the issue of human rights rather than on sweet-talking Mr. Putin into signing another nuclear arms limitation treaty, if only to leave a legacy.

It is clear by now that the policy of appeasement does not work with Russia.

The only way to change its behavior is to push for a revival of a democratic process in Russia

The focus on human rights once championed by Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reagan would constitute a much greater legacy by President Obama than another strategic arms limitation treaty because such policy would do more for the U.S. national interest — mainly because it would end Russia's support of rogue regimes that in turn sponsor terrorism.

Mrs. Thatcher's legacy was helping end the Cold War. President Obama could leave a legacy by helping end Russia's Cold War-type policies.

Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.

Contact Mike Sigov at: sigov@theblade.com, 419-724-6089, or on Twitter @mikesigovblade.