Why some in the Republican Party are warming up to Vladimir Putin

March 31, 2014

As Russia moved to annex Crimea after Ukrainians deposed their president, American sanctions were looming on the horizon. Russia’s economy teetered on the brink. But nearly a month has gone by, and there are no economic sanctions thanks to Congress. Here are several possible reasons why.

Putin appears to be a conservative.

I’ve had a local person tell me before the Ukraine episode that Putin is a deeply religious person, visiting special shrines. He takes great pains to appear with the Russian Orthodox Church (despite his service to the Communist Party and the KGB) and champion Christianity in press releases. His anti-gay positions are in marked contrast with the Democratic Party. He talks tough on terrorism.

Republicans like Vladimir Putin’s aggressive “take charge” style.

Martial arts instructor Steven Seagal, an outspoken Republican supporter and friend of Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio has not only gone to visit Russia, but according to Abby Ohlheiser with The Wire, he “called Putin ‘one of the great living world leaders,’ adding that he ‘would like to consider him as a brother.’”

Putin’s tough guy persona is clearly winning over converts. His ability to appear to have brought Russia back, melded with pictures of him appearing muscular and buff clearly appeal to some who cringe at a party with standard bearers like Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in 2012. Clearly they’d feel differently if Barack Obama tried to emulate Putin’s style. But some in the GOP wish their own leaders were more like him.

Libertarians’ love of Vladimir Putin is more about avoiding a war with him.

Both Dr. Ron Paul and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul have come out in favor of Putin’s annexation of Crimea. The latter even blessed the referendum, a vote condemned by most countries in the United Nations General Assembly. It seems more like a pro-business and anti-war policy than an actual desire to have American run the same was Putin denies the economic and political freedoms to his people that both Pauls cherish.

It’s all about politics.

Some in the GOP are probably just taking the opposite position of President Obama on every issue. Others have used this as an opportunity. House Republicans passed a sanctions bill aimed at Russia, just as Obama requested and the Senate accomplished. But the House version includes a lot of non-foreign policy stuff like more protection for GOP donors.

There’s a time and place to debate and vote on a bill about political donations. But it’s not when American foreign policy reputation is on the line. It’s time to stick to the issue at stake.

Republicans blasted Obama a month ago, claiming his weak foreign policy encouraged Putin to act, forgetting that Bush’s aggressive policy did nothing to deter the Russian invasion of Georgia and annexation of several regions.

Our allies, and fence sitters in East Europe and Central Asia are waiting to see what we will do. The Senate is waiting for a clean sanctions bill, and President Obama is ready to sign it. What’s the holdup? Is it because some in the GOP really don’t want to punish Putin? I hope not.