The editorial page of The Washington Post is warning of the folly of appeasing Vladimir Putin, saying:
When Russia was roiled by uncertainty and change in the 1990s, and even into the 2000s, it made sense to engage, and engagement did plenty of good. But something fundamental has changed. Mr. Putin has suffocated democracy, forged an economic model based on crony capitalism and carried out subterfuge and subversion against Ukraine. It is misplaced to suggest that all will be well if we can just sell Russia more airplanes and sneakers.
The Post editorial expressed alarm about the “powerful citadels of U.S. capitalism”—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers—launching a major advertising campaign against economic sanctions on Russia. The ads appeared in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
The full-page ads opposing sanctions on Russia were signed by Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers.
The Russia Today (RT) Moscow-funded propaganda channel is ecstatic over what Big Business is doing for Putin, with a story headlined, “U.S. business to run ads against Russian sanctions.” RT says, “The trade associations warn that economic sanctions will translate into huge damages from lost trade with Russia.”
The newspaper ads make no mention of Russian aggression against Ukraine and state only that “America’s interests are at stake in Russia and Ukraine,” as if more trade with Russia is the only course that makes any sense.
But the benefits for Russia go beyond trade. It is “crony capitalism” with a Russian face, as billionaire Russian businessman Gennady Timchenko, a Putin associate, has been seeking financial backing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to buy as many as 11 aircraft from Gulfstream Aerospace of Savannah, Georgia.
By any logical measure, the Post should join with conservatives in opposing reauthorization of the bank. But a 2012 Post editorial was ambiguous about the bank’s future, suggesting “reform” but not outright abolition. “In 2012,” according to a memorandum from the House financial Services Committee, “Congress reauthorized the Ex-Im Bank. The reauthorization increased the Ex-Im Bank’s exposure limit from $100 billion to $140 billion.” The Ex-Im Bank’s authorization expires on September 30, 2014.
“Democrats are generally supportive of the bank,” notes Business Times.
But a recent Post article was headlined, “Long-building conservative anger at Export-Import Bank reaches boiling point.”
The loans for business deals involving Russia are proving to be some of the most controversial.
Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said, “We don’t think that the Export-Import Bank should exist at all, let alone even consider giving loans and loan guarantees to Russian oligarchs and companies with ties to the Russian mob.”
He said that the taxpayer-supported bank “guaranteed $489 million in credits to a Russian oil company whose roots are imbedded in a legacy of KGB and Communist Party corruption, as well as drug trafficking and organized crime funds, according to Russian and U.S. sources and documents.”
In a March 19 statement, he added, “We hope the Chamber of Commerce will join us in asking the Export-Import Bank to immediately cease doing business with all Russian companies…”
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce represents “the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” The National Association of Manufacturers describes itself as “the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states.”
They both strongly support the Export-Import Bank and have mounted a campaign to save it.
Going even further in this campaign of appeasement toward Russia, New York University and Princeton Professor Stephen Cohen, at the recent U.S.-Russia Forum, called for the creation of a modern-day American Committee on East West Accord, a group that promoted East-West trade during the Cold War. Prominent members of this group included Donald M. Kendall of Pepsi, which was selling soft drinks in the USSR and Soviet brand Stolichnaya vodka in the United States.
At the time, columnist Rowland Evans and Robert Novak called it the “détente lobby,” which came to mean appeasement of the Kremlin. The term “détente” also came to be associated with the policies of President Nixon’s Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who now runs a firm doing business in Russia.
The National Association of Manufacturers and U.S. Chamber of Commerce are on the steering committee of the Coalition for U.S.-Russia Trade and played a big role in passing Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) for Russia through Congress.
But the U.S. Department of Commerce set the stage in 2002 when it designated Russia as a market economy.
This situation dramatically changed, however, in 2005, when businessman William Browder was expelled from Russia and the authorities raided his Russian offices in 2007. One year later they arrested his attorney for exposing official corruption, and in 2009 they murdered him.
As we reported in our column on Browder’s campaign for justice for his attorney, “The Magnitsky case became a concrete manifestation of how Putin and his group of former KGB officers were looting the country and consolidating their power.”
The arguments set forth in the Big Business ads—that sanctions would hurt U.S. work and industries more than the Russians—are similar to what these groups argued when President Reagan launched sanctions against the old Soviet Union.
It’s true, as the ads claim, that Reagan lifted a grain embargo on the Soviet Union that had been imposed by President Jimmy Carter. But he also launched a multifaceted campaign to restrict the Soviet Union’s access to Western technology and bank loans.
Reagan wanted to “strangle the Soviets economically,” notes Paul Kengor in his book on Reagan, The Crusader. It was “economic warfare,” in addition to a U.S. military buildup, that brought about the dissolution of the USSR that Putin now wants to rectify.
As Putin contemplates his next aggressive move, it’s apparent that he has U.S. Big Business in his corner.