Birds-of-a-feather department

October 20, 2004

POLLS SHOW a certain country almost evenly divided between those who support George W. Bush and those who support John Kerry, but Republicans usually have an edge and this year is no exception.

On a trip abroad, the president himself suggests that a victory for Mr. Kerry in November would be a victory for worldwide terrorism. Having seen his relations with Europe sour, the man in charge understands that he has only himself and his great nation to rely on, but he has backbone, because he is the sort of resolute leader who never admits or recognizes a mistake. Despite the bloody and unwinnable war he has launched, and the terror it has provoked, he is untroubled by criticism or dissent because he has brought the press to heel. Opposition, in his view, is betrayal. Yet his vision is a bold one: Someday, all the dangers and violence notwithstanding, he hopes to bring an end to the draft. And no one holds his past as a KGB spy against him.

Well, of course. This is the Russia of Vladimir V. Putin.

It was on Monday, in Tajikistan, that President Putin said he believes "international terrorism has as its goal to prevent the election of President Bush to a second term." A Kerry victory, he said, "will give international terrorism a new impulse and extra power."

This may be an endorsement Mr. Bush could have done without (however much he may agree with it). The United States and Russia have had a complicated relationship recently, including Russian opposition to the war in Iraq, but from Mr. Putin's point of view, the gist of it is that both countries are stalwart warriors against the forces of evil. The implication here? If it's necessary for Mr. Bush to remain in office until the last terrorist has been eliminated, then surely the same must be true for Mr. Putin. Two kindred souls, on the ramparts until a new day finally dawns - however distant that day may be.

You can see the appeal from the Kremlin's perspective, but it may be going a little far here in the homeland. Mr. Putin's an autocrat, for Pete's sake. He's ruthless, and proud of it. He has also been bogged down in a war (in Chechnya) for five years now. Russia's reaction to that war has been a sharp turn toward authoritarianism, so Mr. Bush, who likes to emphasize freedom, could be forgiven if he didn't exactly welcome Mr. Putin's endorsement.

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