Rubio: Russia is a 'government of liars'

Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) turned in a solid performance on NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the Ukrainian crisis on Sunday.  He made some strong statements about Russia, which he called a “government of liars.”

A key passage, from NBC’s transcript:

Well, first of all, I think that, as I said, I think previous administrations deserve criticism as well with regards to clearly viewing what Vladimir Putin’s goals are here. I think moving forward, as you look at, for example, Secretary Kerry a moment ago mentioned success with the START treaty. Yet, we know that the Russians have basically violated every major treated they’ve ever entered into.

We see how they basically lied. I mean, let’s call it what it is. They are lying and this government is a government of liars, the Russian government. And you see it, what’s happening now in Crimea. I mean, they’re claiming they’re not there, you’ve got these individuals showing up in unmarked uniforms, wearing masks.  But clearly, they’re Russian troops, even though they refused to acknowledge it.

So you’re dealing with a government that lies as a matter of course, and it’s very difficult to enter an understanding with them on anything when they are willing to lie and cover things up in this way.

He’s still talking about the Russian government at the end there, in case you might be thinking of anyone else who lies as a matter of course, and is therefore difficult to reach an understanding with.

When NBC host David Gregory followed up by asking for some “blunt talk” about whether Russia is an enemy of the United States, Rubio replied:

I think they’re increasingly behaving like an enemy of international peace and international norms. If you look after the end of World War II and certainly through the cold war era, the spread of democracy and freedom and established norms for nations to interact with one another so that we would never have another world war.

Russia doesn’t, under this president, Putin, does not seem interested in any of that. So they are an enemy of that. And they are, certainly as it regards to that, an enemy of the United States. And with regards to those things I just outlined. And if you look at the positions they’ve taken on issue after issue, Russia has been an obstacle to U.S. national interests.

That is indeed blunt talk, and it’s far closer to the mark than anything Team Obama was pushing prior to this weekend.  Only a few days ago, the Russians were denying they had any intention of moving troops into Crimea… even as mysterious units wearing illegal unmarked uniforms were seizing control of airports and government buildings.  The degree of duplicity they’ve displayed throughout the crisis is remarkable.

The whole idea of Russia as a convivial strategic partner whose course could be corrected with a bit of chiding from Obama was always dangerously loopy.  Earlier on the same program, Secretary of State John Kerry made a point of patting Russia on the head for all the great work they’ve been doing, even if the late unpleasantness in the Crimea represented “a different phase” of the U.S.-Russian relationship.  But hey, as Kerry reminded us, “we’ve managed to do the START treaty, they’ve cooperated on Afghanistan, they’ve cooperated on Iran, so this is not a zero-sum, dead, alive.  It’s a question of differences, very profound differences and certain issues and certain approaches.”

Is it just me, or does anyone else get the willies listening to John Kerry rattle off this incoherent nonsense?  “Zero-sum, dead, alive…”  What the hell is he even talking about?  What language is he speaking?  He also claimed he didn’t know what the “reset with Russia” meant, which happens to be just about the only notable quote from his predecessor as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, prior to her deadly bungle in Benghazi.

Insofar as any rational point can be distilled from Kerry’s clucking, it’s that he seems to think we’re just working through a “profound difference” of opinion with Putin over whether Ukraine’s borders mean anything, perhaps soon to be followed by an even livelier difference of opinion about whether Ukraine should exist at all.  Moscow’s “different approach” to this issue involves rolling long-range heavy artillery into Crimea, which doesn’t line up very well with their avowed desire to merely protect ethnic Russians in Ukraine from discrimination.

Within 36 hours of Kerry’s fatuous remarks, U.N. ambassador Samantha Power was telling the Security Council, “There is nothing that justifies Russian conduct,” and their defense of the Crimean invasion was “without basis in reality.”  This Administration is still reeling in shock from Putin’s aggression, and it doesn’t look like anyone’s bothering to waste time getting John Kerry on the same page.As Marco Rubio put it, the Russians have a government of liars, which only a few days ago was denying they had any intention of moving troops into Crimea, even as mysterious units with unmarked uniforms were seizing control of airports and government buildings.

Rubio spoke of changing the “cost/benefit analysis” to restrain further Russian adventurism: “to enact an extraordinary price to pay on the international front for them, for their ambitions, ultimately for individuals in that government, and for their economy.”  He also advised “reinvigorating” the NATO alliance, which sounds like an effort to reassure panicked Europeans – who are on the verge of a continental freak-out this week – that Putin’s expansion will be stopped at the borders of Ukraine, even if the West seems to be making an uneasy peace with the notion that he can’t be stopped east of Kiev.

It remains to be seen whether an aggressor state really can be brought to heal with disapproving language, sanctions, and a general withdrawal of international respect.  Putin’s Russia might want that respect more than the average tinpot dictatorship – not enough to stop them from securing what they reasonably perceive as vital interests in Crimea (nobody can possibly think they were going to be sanguine about threats to their Black Sea fleet) and maybe not enough to keep them from slipping Ukraine into the jigsaw puzzle of a resurgent Russian empire.

There are other subjects in the Rubio interview with David Gregory, concluding with the inevitable “Are you running for President? / I haven’t made up my mind yet” duet.  Things could change between now and 2016, but at the moment it looks like foreign policy is back on the front burner, and every GOP hopeful needs to acquit themselves well on the burning issues of the day.