Vladimir Putin, looking to stick it to President Obama, has extended a friendly hand to the Egyptian military. The gesture is supposed to be a provocation. But since Egypt’s military has only killed a few hundred people (as opposed to the 100,000 killed in Syria), Putin’s move doesn’t seem that bad.
Putin has rarely met a dictator, murderer, or criminal he didn’t like (except for the political dissidents he’s jailed on trumped up charges).
Putin’s message is clear: if the international community tries to hold him accountable for his despotism and human rights abuses, he’s going to behave even more aggressively. Good. Let him.
For years, Western leaders have avoided confronting Mr. Putin out of fear that he would lash out on the world stage. What has this strategy achieved? Putin has helped Assad murder 100,000 people in Syria, provided cover for Iran as it rapidly develops a nuclear weapon, supported dictators and thugs in every corner of the world, strengthened his alliance with China, and imprisoned political activists and homosexuals in Russia.
Compared to all of these outrages, Putin’s attempt to influence the Egyptian Army doesn’t seem that drastic. If the Egyptian Army does try to seize control of the country, the U.S. might be forced to cut or drastically reduce ties anyway. And if a civilian government returns to power, America will be able to make a strong case for that government’s allegiance.
And America’s best leverage doesn’t come through our ties to Egypt’s military, but rather through our ties to Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who provide significant financial support to Egypt.
Putin’s effort to influence Egyptian generals is not “punishing” America. It’s just another way that Putin is showing us who he truly is. And, in all likelihood, he probably would have made this move regardless of U.S.-Russian relations.
Putin’s allies in Iran just made a similarly provocative move by seizing an oil tanker bound for India in order to punish New Delhi for cutting back on Iranian oil. Putin and his friends in Iran are bullies and thugs. The only way to stop bullies is to stand up and fight back.