Will Russia’s leaders smarten up?

Jay Ambrose

It was dumb for Russia to spy on us and dumber still to grouse about arrests, but here’s what could be even dumber – expecting too much that is lastingly smart or decent from the people who run that land anytime soon.

Everything about this farce is laughably inane. Apparently not knowing that the Cold War was over, Russia’s intelligence masters decided to have covert agents live in America as ordinary citizens, get in tight with top decision makers and report interesting information. None of them apparently was ever able to find out much.

What they did do was get found out themselves by the FBI, which seems to have learned far more about them over a period of years than they learned about American secrets. Finally, a bunch were taken in, and Russian officials started complaining, not so much denying allegations as fuming that some American officials would have the audacity to actually make a fuss about what these visitors were up to.

Thus begins the brave, new world promised by President Barack Obama, a “reset” of relations with Russia, a mutually advantageous, responsible era of cooperation. These high hopes were recently highlighted in a visit here by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, the happy-seeming minion of Vladimir Putin, once president himself. He is now a prime minister whose regime has lately been confiscating books critical of him and breaking up protest rallies.

Although Obama seems to have forgotten, we were supposedly once before on the heels of Russian-U.S. fraternalism. That was when President George W. Bush met with Putin, looked him in the eye and saw the soul of the man, something splendid, but something that failed to keep Putin from invading a U.S. ally, Georgia, and grabbing a couple of its provinces as new Russian provinces.

There were other problems, such as Putin saying one of the greatest tragedies in world history was the collapse of the Soviet Empire, praising Stalin as a great man, helping to block effective sanctions against Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, lambasting the United States on various occasions and making one wonder about his innocence after political opponents were poisoned or shot in the head.

Ah, but things have been getting better, it is reported from various perspectives.

Obama has done Russia some favors, such as abandoning a plan to put up defensive missiles in Eastern Europe that friends there wanted even if Russia didn’t. He has promoted a nuclear disarmament treaty that strikes at least a few commentators as mostly to Russia’s advantage, and Russia is getting aboard. Russia has now said it would go along with Iranian sanctions, overly timid, pointless ones, some contend. But the Obama crowd seems to be happy to take what it can get.

The not-so-surprising truth is that the Russians have become sweeter about just about everything, and the reason it is not so surprising is that Russia needs our money.

Though it has lots of oil and mineral deposits, Russia remains a poor country that would like to be a modern, thriving land, experts observe. A closer economic and political relationship could be good for both of us except that some critics note a major problem: the non-existence of rule of law there and the consequent unpredictability of what the government might do to investors’ businesses at any given juncture.

Russia, as we all know, is an extraordinary place that has produced some of the greatest literature, music and art the world has ever known, but it sadly hung onto feudalism too long, then entered a new feudalism known as Communism, is now at the mercy of political hacks and worse and faces a swiftly declining population that some writers say will make it less and less a factor in world affairs over time.

Maybe there’s hope. One small step forward would be to quit spying on us.