The Post's coverage of Russia in November was dominated by the potential effects of the November 2 U.S. congressional elections on the future of U.S.-Russia relations and, in particular, on the ratification of the New START treaty in U.S Senate. A November 2 article by Keith Richburg and Will Englund analyzing the global impact of the elections described fear in Moscow that "emboldened Senate Republicans might make a first test of their new clout" by blocking the Obama administration's efforts to promptly ratify the treaty.
Mary Beth Sheridan and Walter Pincus described, on November 13, the administration's attempt to please the treaty's critics by offering to spend an additional $4 billion over five years on the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. They devoted their next day's piece to Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), the Republican Party's leading voice on the treaty. However, as the Sheridan-Pincus duo reported on November 17, Sen. Kyl was not moved by the White House's outreach and indicated that he would not vote for the treaty until at least next year. Joined by William Branigin, Sheridan and Pincus continued, the next day, by writing about President Obama's desperate push to ratify the treaty during the lame duck Senate session despite Kyl's opposition. Pincus and Sheridan returned to the subject on November 27 by describing the administration's attempts to "work around" Sen. Kyl in an attempt to gather the nine Republican votes needed to pass the ratification this year. Kathy Lally contributed to the team effort from Moscow by describing the disappointment among Russian analysts with U.S. Senate inaction.
On November 19, Sheridan pointed to an "unusual split" between the U.S. military leadership and conservative Republicans over the issue of nuclear arms control negotiations with Russia. She also warned, on November 21, that the uncertain future of the New START was a cause of concern for U.S. allies in Europe. Sheridan was seconded by Karen DeYoung who wrote that the treaty was supported by four ex-Eastern bloc nations (Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania) – pouring cold water on the claim, by some Republican opponents of the treaty, that the New START would endanger countries that were part of the former Soviet Union.
The Post's editorial board and op-ed contributors were active, too. On November 15, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates repeated the administration's position that the "New START will advance critical national security objectives…[and] will also set the stage for future arms reductions, including negotiations on tactical nuclear weapons." They also rejected the treaty critics' claims that it will limit the United States' ability to deploy missile defense or to modernize its nuclear force.
A number of the Post's columnists expressed their suppopt (of sorts) for the treaty, each with his own reasoning. Robert Kagan argued that "blocking the treaty will…strengthen Vladimir Putin." Dana Milbank claimed that by refusing to ratify the treaty, Republicans show that they were "not interested in the security of the American people." David Broder insisted that securing the United States' ability to limit and monitor Russian missile development has been a "central goal of American foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic administrations." E.J. Dionne Jr. repeated both Kagan's ("If this treaty is not ratified, the only winner will be Vladimir Putin") and Milbank's ("Sen. Jon Kyl…is playing Russian roulette with our nation's interests") arguments.
Even Jackson Diehl isn't against the New START ("The Senate ought to approve it if only to ensure the continued monitoring of Russian missiles"); he simply feels bad that "Obama has made [it] a priority for the lame-duck Senate, at a time when Americans don't yet know what income tax rate they will pay on Jan. 1." I like Diehl's honesty: now we know that he considers the size of his paycheck a higher priority than U.S. national security.
Charles Krauthammer was the only Post's columnist who voiced his opposition to the treaty, but after months of hearing Krauthammer lambasting the president for everything he did, said or thought, it's hard to avoid the impression that Krauthammer doesn't like the New START mainly because the president does. (I suspect that had Obama decided not to proceed with ratification of the treaty, Krauthammer would have lambasted him for being soft on national security.) Like Diehl, Krauthammer is unhappy that the treaty is "addressing a non-problem, Russia, while doing nothing about the real problem – Iran and North Korea." A reasonable person could argue that it's Russia, not Iran, that possesses about 45% of the world's nuclear arms, but when it comes to Iran, Krauthammer, Diehl & Co. are driven by faith, not math.
A November 19 editorial essentially sided with Diehl. While concluding that "the treaty ought to be approved", it sees no damage "if the Senate does not act this year." Instead, the Post's editorial board suggests that the Senate focuses on the issue "that matters more than U.S.-Russian arms control", namely, "completing and approving the free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama." Hmm, OK.
The Lisbon NATO-Russia summit got some coverage, too. Karen DeYoung and Edward Cody previewed the summit, on November 16, and then reported, on November 20, on the agreement, between Russia and the alliance, to cooperate on building an anti-missile defense system in Europe. Anne Applebaum sees a future for the improving NATO-Russia relations. In particular, she believes that some day, Russia may take part in NATO military exercises. The reason? Here we go: "One day we may find ourselves helping Russia defend its borders against China, so we might as well start practicing." Wow!
The non-security coverage was diverse and touched upon a number of interesting topics. Kathy Lally began, on November 2, with reporting on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's concluding statement to the court. (Khodorkovsky's speech earned high marks from Jackson Dielh who compared the imprisoned Russian oligarch to Andrei Sakharov. Hmm, OK.) On November 8, Lally reported on the beating of Oleg Kashin, a reporter for the Kommersant newspaper. (A November 8 editorial called President Medvedev's swift reaction to the beating "a show.") Her November 15 article dealt with a new twist in the case of the late Sergei Magnitsky. Finally, Lally wrote, on November 19 and November 23, about the International Tiger Forum in St. Petersburg.
On November 3, Englund reported on the death of former Russian Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin. (Englund should be applauded for his skillful English translations of Chernomyrdin's famous aphorisms.) He wrote another piece on November 8 describing Russian sanitary officials' plan to ban all frozen chicken on January 1, "a move that would effectively stop imports from the United States as well as Europe and Brazil." The same day, Pincus revisited a bizarre case of Harold James Nicholson, a former senior CIA case officer, accused, for the second time, in spying for Russia. On November 12, Englund reportedon the opening of the long-awaited investigation into Daimler/Mercedes bribery case. On November 16, Tim Johnston and Catherine Belton described Russia's outrage over the decision by the Thai authorities to extradite to the United States the alleged arms dealer, Victor Bout.