September 15, 2004

MEMORANDUM TO: OPINION LEADERS

FROM: TIM LEHMANN, Assistant Director

SUBJECT: Kagan on Putin

President Bush today expressed concern over Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision earlier this week to abolish direct elections for Russia's regional governors and to start electing the Russian parliament by party slates more easily controlled by Moscow. Bush stated that he was "concerned about the decisions that are being made in Russia that could undermine democracy in Russia. As governments fight the enemies of democracy, they must uphold the principles of democracy."

The President is correct to criticize Putin, and should continue to do so on both strategic and moral grounds, as Project Director Robert Kagan points out in his op-ed, "Stand Up to Putin," published in today's Washington Post. Kagan charges that Putin's recent decision to end popular direct elections in Russia and to have the Russian parliament elected on the basis of slates chosen by national party leaders that Putin himself controls "is an unambiguous step toward tyranny in Russia," a cynical ploy to consolidate his own political power in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Beslan.

While it may be popular to believe that Putin is "with us" against the forces of terrorism, Kagan argues that his betrayal of decent democratic principles makes it impossible for us to consider him a true ally in prosecuting the war on terror. As Kagan makes clear, remaining ambivalent vis-à-vis Putin's authoritarianism would "cast doubt" on America's commitment to promoting democracy in the Middle East.

In addition, U.S. strategic interests hang in the balance if Putin is allowed to continue down the path toward tyranny in Russia. As Kagan argues, "a dictatorial Russia is at least as dangerous to U.S. interests as a dictatorial Iraq," and can "never be considered a reliable ally of the U.S."

Kagan urges Bush to "[take] tangible actions in the economic and political spheres to express U.S. disapproval" of Putin's recent moves. This may cost us Russia's help in the short term, but it is a risk we must run if we are to obtain our long-term strategic goals.