Best of In The Fray 2014.
Last year I visited Saur-Mogila, a burial mound in eastern Ukraine that commemorates the Soviet soldiers who died driving back the Nazis during World War II. Today it is a battleground for a new war, as separatists fight for independence and Russia moves its troops into the lands it once liberated.
Journalist Masha Gessen wrote a well-received biography of Russian president Vladimir Putin two years ago. In her new book Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot
, she profiles Pussy Riot, a Russian feminist punk activist group whose members have become the international faces of anti-Putin protest.
In recent years the group has won a global following—including the likes of Madonna and Paul McCartney—for their offbeat acts of civil disobedience against the Russian government. One of their best-known protests—a controversial “punk prayer” performance in a Moscow cathedral in 2012—eventually landed three of its members in jail. Gessen, a Russian American journalist and herself a critic of Putin, follows the personal histories of these three members: Nadezhda Tolokonnikova (Nadya), Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Stanislavovna Samutsevich (Kat). Most of the book was culled from Gessen’s reporting from their trial and her correspondence with Nadya and Maria while they were in prison.
Speaking at West Point on Wednesday, President Obama touted his administration’s response to Russia’s recent belligerence in Ukraine. “Our ability to shape world opinion helped isolate Russia right away,” he said. The public outcry and the pressure exerted by international institutions, he added, have served as an effective “counterweight” to “Russian propaganda and Russian troops on the border and armed militias in ski masks.” In spite of the crisis Ukraine has gone on to hold elections—“without us firing a shot.”
Unfortunately, Obama is mistaken. The momentum is still on Russia’s side. It has forcibly seized and annexed the strategically valuable peninsula of Crimea. It has succeeded in destabilizing eastern Ukraine through a proxy war—secretively supporting ethnic Russian rebellions against the Ukrainian government there. It is quite possible Ukraine will end up losing more of its territory.
Russia's actions in Ukraine show that for Vladimir Putin, the Cold War never ended. Now the US and its allies must prepare for another lengthy power struggle. But no international coalition can be effective while Russian energy reserves supply a quarter of Europe's natural gas. A long-term US energy strategy is the best way to counter Russian power.
A hard-knock game of comic proportions.