Samantha Power, US president Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN, put aside the diplomacy for her last major speech in the role to tell the international community it must do everything it can to stop what she described as a Russian assault on the world order.
Outlining Russian actions like the annexation of Crimea, the bombing of civilians in Syria, and a hacking of America’s election, Power drew a picture of a state whose primary aim is to sow chaos and wreak havoc on the “rules-based” world order that is girded by international law and run in bodies like the United Nations.
“Russia’s actions are not standing up a new world order, they are tearing down the one that exists, and this is what we are fighting against,” she said in a speech at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington today (Jan. 17). “Having defeated the forces of fascism and communism, we now confront the forces of authoritarianism and nihilism.”
As countries across the world fret about the warm words US president-elect Donald Trump has had for Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Power’s speech amounted to a 40-minute plea to American politicians of all stripes to come together and ensure Trump doesn’t let Putin off for his violations of international law.
Trump has suggested that warming relations with Moscow can only be a good thing. But, addressing the fact that Obama tried to “reset” relations in 2009, Power argued now is a different time: The Russian president then was (nominally) Dmitry Medvedev, Russia had not invaded Ukraine, and had not tried to influence the US elections.
Those who argue, as Trump has, that undoing sanctions against Russia will make the Kremlin more amenable “have it backwards,” Power said. “Easing punitive measures…will only embolden Russia,” encourage North Korea and Iran to follow them and send the message that all they need to do is “wait it out,” Power argued.
“We root wholeheartedly for a different kind of era, but it can’t be one that glosses the past or papers over the fact that you’re talking about dealing with a leader who has his own opponents intimidated and in some cases killed,” she said, making her perhaps the highest-ranking US official to accuse Putin of ordering assassinations.
Positive policy prescriptions were few and far between, however—showing the extent to which the Obama administration hit an impasse with Moscow. “In the place of faith they offer cynicism, in the place of engagement, indifference,” Power said.
The tenor of the speech instead implied that at present there simply is no middle ground between an American belief in liberal democracy and Russian nihilism. But Trump, as evidenced by the below tweets, sounds prepared to attempt to bridge that divide.