Possibly signaling the regime's transition from "softer" authoritarianism to a more traditional repression, the Kremlin further tested the waters with indictments against Russia's two top opposition leaders: blogger and anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny and socialist Sergei Udaltsov. The former is accused of stealing 13,000 cubic yards of timber and the latter of plotting to overthrow the regime with the assistance of the Georgian government. Now two of Udaltsov's closest associates have already been arrested; the third, Leonid Razvozzhayev, was kidnapped by the FSB in Kiev, brought to Moscow, and held handcuffed without water, food, or access to a toilet until he "confessed" to plotting, with Udaltsov, to instigate mass riots to bring down the government It is almost certain that both Navalny and Udaltsov are headed for arrests, trials, and lengthy prison terms.
Given this record, both the Russian opposition and the regime would undoubtedly interpret Obama's visit as a show of support for the Kremlin as it continues to crack down on a non-violent opposition that demands free and fair elections, equality before the law, freedom of speech, and the end of corruption.
Occasionally, in the conduct of foreign policy, statesmen are forced to choose between their respective country's values and their interests. This, however, can hardly be the case here. Russia is no help -- or worse -- with Iran or Syria. The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will end what has been Moscow's main contribution to U.S. national security: its permission to transport troops and weapons across Russia through the so-called Northern Distribution Network.
This leaves only one conceivable reason for the White House's neglecting what should be an overarching U.S. goal of facilitating Russia's transition to a freer, more democratic, stable, and prosperous state: the administration's aim to make even deeper reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal in pursuit of Obama's declared goal of a "world without nuclear weapons," as he put it in his 2009 speech in Prague, by means of another arms control agreement with Russia.
If that's the case, then turning a blind eye to the regime's increased repression and Obama's visit to Moscow can't be the only conditions for the Kremlin's cooperation. Surely, Putin will continue to demand the scuttling of missile defense systems in Europe.
I, for one, have often given the Obama White House the benefit of the doubt where the Russia policy was concerned. But it would be hard to do the same this time if core U.S. values and security goals are being sacrificed on the altar of a hardly urgent "arms control" deal with a regime in Moscow that has been so hostile to both. The president should stay home.