“The greatest geostrategic disaster of the 20th century,” Vladimir Putin has called the collapse of the Soviet Empire. His statement shook Western elites, for we see that collapse as miraculous deliverance, the welcome death of an evil empire built on the denial of God-given rights, an empire with the blood of scores of millions of innocents on its hands.
As President Bush said in Riga, Central and Eastern Europe were not liberated in 1945 by the Red Army. They were liberated in 1989 by the collapse of Soviet Communism:
V-E Day marked the end of fascism, but it did not end oppression. The agreement at Yalta followed in the unjust tradition of Munich and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. Once again, when powerful governments negotiated, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable. … The captivity of millions in Central and Eastern Europe will be remembered as one of the greatest wrongs of history.
What Bush did not say was that the men responsible for the sellout of those nations were Churchill and FDR, whose groveling to Stalin at Yalta made Neville Chamberlain look like Davy Crockett at the Alamo.
But if we wish to befriend Russia—and America has no more vital interest —we must try to see the world as Putin sees it. We must try to see Russia from the vantage point of a patriot son who joined his nation’s secret service at the apogee of its power, only to see his country collapse, crumble, and fall to pieces in two years.
Before the Reagan era, it was America in retreat all over the world. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia had fallen to Leninism, as had Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique in Africa, Grenada in the Caribbean, Nicaragua in Central America. Eurocommunism was the rage in Europe.
The Red Army, for the first time since World War II, had invaded a nation outside the Soviet bloc: Afghanistan. Iran had overthrown the pro-American Shah. The United States seemed leaderless, paralyzed, unable to effect the release of its diplomats held hostage in Tehran. For a young KGB officer, it must have been a proud and heady moment to be an officer of a world-girdling empire on the march.
But a decade later, not only had the Soviet Empire collapsed, his country had fallen apart. In 1989, the Red Army was ordered out of Afghanistan. A Soviet surface and submarine navy Admiral Gorchakov had created to challenge the U.S. Navy was now rusting and rotting in dry-dock, being sold off for scrap.
Soviet citizens were stranded and isolated in the outposts of Cuba, Africa, and Southeast Asia. In Germany and every nation east, the cry went up: “Russians, Go Home!”
The Russia they went home to was a truncated nation. The Baltic republics had seceded, as had Ukraine. Ten republics from the Caucasus to Central Asia were gone, among them Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. Russia no longer had a common border with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, or Iran.
The defecting republics were soon turning their backs on Moscow and turning to Washington to join NATO. Comecon, the Soviets’ common market, fell apart, and, after a decade of looting by oligarchs and criminals, Russia’s economy was roughly the size of Holland’s.
Let us ask ourselves: if the Confederate states had won their war of independence, and New England followed them out of the Union, and British troops were now stationed in both breakaway nations—to insure their independence from Washington—how would patriotic Americans have responded in 1865?
Putin’s Russia has suffered a strategic disaster like that of Germany at Versailles. Germany, too, was dismembered, divided, stripped of colonies, bankrupted by war reparations, forced to confess full moral guilt for the war. Allied refusal to rectify these injustices led to the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler.
Putin today leads a nation with a horrific history to confront—the truth of 70 years of Leninism and Stalinism—as his nation undergoes an existential crisis. At a time like this, why are we meddling in the internal affairs of neighboring states to dump over Putin’s allies? Why are we building bases in former Soviet republics? Is there some threat there to the United States? Why are we in Putin’s face about Russia’s failure to measure up to Iowa’s standards of democracy?
Making Russia a friend was Reagan’s great legacy. But you do not keep a friend by constantly reminding him and incessantly rebuking him for the sins he committed while under the influence of some terrible drug.
Let us pray that Mr. Bush will not let his neoconservatives—whose expertise lies in starting wars on countries that have not attacked us and making enemies of countries that wish to befriend us—kick it away.