At Convention Forum, Talk of the ‘Thugs’ and ‘Criminals’ Running Russia

Last night, I wrote about Senator Joe Lieberman’s appearance at a panel discussion on John McCain’s foreign policy. Lieberman’s appearance made the news, but some of the most notable comments actually came from Robert “Bud” McFarlane, the former national security adviser to Ronald Reagan and current member of the McCain campaign’s national security advisory board. (He also pleaded guilty to charges of misleading Congress in connection with the Iran-Contra affair, but that’s another story.)

In speaking about relations with Russia, McFarlane called its government a “criminal regime” and “Russian thugs,” and suggested freezing the bank accounts of Vladimir Putin and others. Whatever the merits, it’s mighty undiplomatic language—and an indication of how the old Cold Warriors, and their rhetoric, have made a comeback since the outbreak of the Georgian conflict last month.

Here’s what McFarlane said:

“What you have to do is think what kind of government is this Russian government? What are its motives, what inspires a basically criminal regime? And how can you squeeze that? What are its vulnerabilities? And I think you have to consider getting to the point of locking the accounts of people who are stealing literally billions of dollars from the Russian state through control of its energy resources, working with allies to freeze those accounts, curtail or seriously inhibit Russia’s access to capital markets.

”The reaction in the world to what Russia has done in Georgia drove the Russian stock market down 30 percent in the space of a week’s time, and that must have been a sobering experience for one or two oligarchs who are heavily invested in the Russian stock market. So focusing on financial vulnerabilities is an important use of, call it soft power, or putting a real squeeze on Russia. I think however we do have to not just govern alone, and here again is something that Senator McCain has stressed and that is listening to allies and working closely with them.

”I think the nature of the current leadership of Russia—Putin, Medvedev, is thoroughly self-serving personally with very little regard for the Russian people.”

McFarlane mentioned that in his current job—he runs a consulting group called McFarlane Associates, Inc.—he’s had a chance to work in Russia.

“The next generation of Russians are people who have learned from the Internet and travel, through communications, what the West offers. They’re much more Western-oriented and I think they’ll govern far better. But we do have to get through this generation of Russian thugs. And I think that we must take tough measures to put a real squeeze on these individuals.”