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How Obama's 'reset' button can still affect Putin

By JAMES ZUMWALT, UPI Outside View Commentator   |   June 26, 2012 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

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HERNDON, Va., June 26 (UPI) -- Perhaps the biggest waste of U.S. funds in the conduct of U.S. President Barack Obama's foreign policy to date has been its smallest expenditure.

Whatever the U.S. government paid for the "reset" button, delivered to the Russians early in Obama's tenure as a symbolic gesture of improving a relationship, which had soured under President George W. Bush, it has proven a waste of money.

In Vladimir Putin, we bear witness to an aspiring totalitarian who has successfully used the framework of democracy in his own country to build the foundation of a dictatorship and who perceives opposition, both foreign and domestic, as a danger to the world order he believes will best guarantee his international influence.

He has taken the reset environment the United States sought to create in its relationship with him as a green light to pursue his personal objectives -- objectives totally out of sync with those of the United States.

Putin secured the levers of power during his earlier presidency and maintained, as prime minister, control through a hand-picked successor after his two terms in office ended, as was constitutionally mandated. He then restored himself to power as president -- but not before orchestrating a constitutional amendment to extend the time in office from two four-year terms to two terms of six-years.

This gives Putin more time to focus on cementing his personal power without having to waste it on matters with which truly-democratically elected leaders must often deal.

There is a common thread in the conduct of both Putin's domestic and foreign policies. It is the desire to minimize opposition to his perceived world order.

Concerned and surprised by the domestic opposition that arose during his recent presidential campaign, Putin sought to move quickly to contain it once he regained office. Putin's puppets in Parliament conducted a perfunctory debate to perfect legislation introduced to impose a "chilling" effect on opponents.

Immediately after taking office and days before an anti-Putin demonstration was scheduled, Putin signed a bill drastically increasing fines on demonstrators violating the public order -- one with vague wording and contrary to Russia's Constitution.

Simultaneously, Russian police conducted mass raids against protest organizers, requiring them to report for questioning at the same time the protest was to be held.

It was interesting to see Putin move so fast on an issue challenging his power while failing to act, both now and during his two previous terms, to introduce legislation addressing an issue eating away at the very fabric of Russian society -- government corruption -- one undermining social trust between the government and its people.

But the rationale for not doing so is simple -- corruption is the fuel feeding the Putin power machine. Many Russian government officials have been unwilling to lead the anti-corruption charge, thus leaving it to a courageous few.

One such individual, Yevgeny Dushko, 35, mayor of Sergiev Posad -- a city just an hour's drive from Moscow -- paid the ultimate price for doing so.

Graft had left his city without funds to pay for even basic services. After receiving voters' mandate to take the matter on, Dushko was gunned down, leaving little doubt as to why.

Another Russian to pay with his life was Sergei Magnitsky, 37, a lawyer jailed in 2008 after exposing tax fraud within the Russian Interior Department.

For uncovering the fraud, he was charged with it. Tortured and denied medical attention, he died in prison. Recognizing his sacrifice, U.S. legislators attached his name to a bill seeking to hold accountable those within the Russian government believed to be responsible for his death, as well as others guilty of human rights violations, by banning U.S. visas and freezing assets.

Just as has been the case with anti-Putin journalists who have been killed, these crimes go largely unsolved or without any government accountability due mainly to an obvious lack of governmental interest in investigating them.

Estimates are last year more than $84 billion was transferred out of Russia to safe havens overseas maintained by corrupt government officials -- with that total on line to be exceeded this year.

As an equal opportunity opponent of groups opposing governments led by those of a similar totalitarian mindset, Putin also seeks to minimize their struggle for democracy.

Using one hand within the United Nations to derail efforts beyond diplomacy to entice Syria's president Bashar Assad to stop massacring his people, Putin uses the other to send Assad the weapons with which to continue the killing.

While Putin claims "Russia isn't supplying arms that could be used in civil conflicts," Russian attack helicopters have been videotaped shooting the opposition.

Russians have learned Putin seeks to manipulate Russian democracy as a vehicle to transition to dictatorship. With Putin's 12-year leadership track record in place, they now see through his "wolf in sheep's clothing" guise as he strives to establish his perceived world order.

How much longer will it take for Obama to see the only way a reset button will impact on Putin is to throw it at him?

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(James. G. Zumwalt is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer who heads Admiral Zumwalt and Consultants, Inc. He is author of "Bare Feet, Iron Will -- Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam's Battlefields" and the e-book "Living the Juche Lie -- North Korea's Kim Dynasty.")

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(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

© 2012 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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