In the last couple of postings, we’ve looked at a couple of Vladimir Putin’s American fans – Oliver Stone on the left and Christopher Caldwell on the right. In February, Luke O’Brien of Politico served up a substantial report on another Putin apologist, California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher.
O’Brien provided a history Rohrabacher’s Russian ties. One day back in the 1990s, it seems, along with fellow California Congressman Ed Royce and a “professional adventurer and anticommunist activist” named Jack Wheeler, Rohrabacher actually hung out with Putin – who was then mayor of St. Petersburg – at a D.C. watering hole. After a few friendly drinks, Putin and Rohrabacher arm-wrestled. Putin won hands down. Rohrabacher was impressed that such a little guy had so much manly brawn. That, O’Brien says, was the day Rohrabacher “fell for Vladimir Putin.”
Royce now chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Rohrabacher chairs its subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and emerging threats. “More than anyone in Congress,” states O’Brien, Rohrabacher
has become a reliable defender of the Russian point of view, whether it has to do with NATO expansion (“not thoughtful in creating a better relationship with our former enemy”), the inadvisability of economic sanctions (“instead of doing it that way, we should be making an all-out effort to create dialogue”) or the current hostilities in Ukraine, which Rohrabacher says were precipitated at least in part by Western meddling (“I don’t think we should blame all this on Russia”).
Rohrabacher, writes O’Brien, “seems to see in Putin, for all his faults, qualities similar to those of the man he once worked for—a leader who restored national pride after a period of defeat, humiliation and political tumult. Russia, to him, is a country reborn.”
Thanks to his powerful position as head of a major subcommittee, Rohrabacher has been able to provide a platform to other Putin admirers. One of them is Andranik Migranyan, head of a “Kremlin-aligned think tank.” Another is Anthony Salvia, a former State Department official who runs a “little-known nonprofit” called the American Institute in Ukraine and whose presentation to the subcommittee “papered over Russian aggression in Ukraine.” (He also omitted to inform his listeners that he’s a director of a group that lobbies for Rodina, a right-wing Russian political party.)
In April 2013, Rohrabacher could be seen consorting in a Marine hangar in California with Igor Pasternak, Kazakh-born CEO of Worldwide Aeros Corp., and Kazakh officials, including Ambassador Kairat Umarov, who were given “a behind-the-scenes look at the most innovative and revolutionary development in the aviation space, the Aeroscraft.”
Now, here’s where the whole Rohrabacher-Putin love story turns a tad surreal. Among Rohrabacher’s good buddies and top advisors on Russia, it turns out, is none other than Steven Seagal. Yes, that Steven Seagal – the non-Oscar-winning star of such masterpieces as Above the Law, Under Siege, and Fire Down Below. Apparently, Rohrabacher considers Seagal some kind of global-politics guru – so much so that, a couple of years ago, he “refused to hold a hearing on Russia for his subcommittee in part because Seagal was unavailable as a witness.” At one point Rohrabacher wanted to let Seagal arrange a meeting for him with Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s puppet leader in the Chechen Republic. Rohrabacher was “raring to go” – but Foggy Bottom put the kibosh on his plans.
Like Rohrabacher, Putin himself reportedly holds Seagal in “high regard” as an international wheeler-dealer – so much so that he sought to hire the actor “to lobby for the Russian arms industry in the United States.” The two men, by all accounts, are very chummy: Seagal has called Putin a personal friend, described him as a “brother,” and praised him as “one of the greatest living world leaders.” A defender of Putin’s invasion of Crimea (which he considered a “very reasonable” move), Seagal even appeared on the Kremlin-owned RT channel as – we kid you not – an “expert commentator on the standoff in Ukraine” (!). Seagal’s fellow acting heavyweight and Putin fan Gérard Depardieu turned in his French citizenship for a Russian passport; Seagal has said he’s thinking of making the same move.