If his Twitter account is any indication, U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) had a no good, very bad weekend.
Rohrabacher, who represents California’s 48th district, tweeted in response to @UANews4ENMedi this past Friday that the ongoing conflict in Ukraine began “started by assassination of elected president,” further noting that “hostility toward Russia not justified. Will create new Cold War.”* The conversation appears to have begun when @UANews4ENMedi posted an article by James Kirchick of The Daily Beast on the annual World Russia Forum, for which Rohrabacher provided introductory remarks.
Noting an apparent discrepancy between the definition of “assassination” and the reality on the ground in Ukraine, analysts were not amused, and it went downhill from there. I pointed out that for a fellow so against coups, it’s curious he praised Egypt’s President Sisi, who replaced democratically-elected president Mohamed Morsi after the latter was ousted in a coup d’état in July 2013. (Rohrabacher didn’t respond.) Instead, he spent the next few days wildly backpedaling on his original statement, emphasizing that Viktor Yanukovych was not dead and that focusing on the wording of a tweet is futile. “Trying to find technical errors in the tweets prevents honest discussion of differences,” he told Casey Michel, a journalist and Columbia University graduate student. “Of course, that is what some people want.”
“Not sure saying EuroMaidan resulted in Yanukovych’s ‘assassination’ counts as a ‘technical error,’” replied Michel.
Indeed, “fled” and “dead” may rhyme, but you’d be hard pressed to consider them synonyms. Yanukovych fled Ukraine after he was forced out of office in February 2014. Subsequent reports have indicated that Yanukovych is definitely not dead. After fleeing to Russia, he conducted a number press conferences, asserting he was still the legitimate leader of Ukraine. More recently, he was alleged to have been spotted in Moscow and was placed on Interpol’s “most wanted” list.
Rohrabacher’s pro-Putin rhetoric becomes even more mind-boggling given his resume. He got his start in the 1980s as a speechwriter and adviser for President Ronald Reagan. He played a large role in shaping the Reagan Doctrine, which took a more “offensive” approach to containment by arming liberation groups in regions under or coming under Communist control, such as Afghanistan. Shortly after his election, he immersed himself in the war in Afghanistan and joined up with a rebel unit fighting against the Soviets.
Then again, he’s held some other odd positions before. As a climate-change denier, he’s gone so far as to blame “dinosaur flatulence” for previous fluctuations in the earth’s climate. He’s not a fan of the government putting fluoride in your water either.
But odd statements and support for marijuana legalization aside, his overall recent voting record appears to be fairly normal for a conservative Congressman. Recently, he’s voted in favor of Keystone XL and banning federal funding for abortions, and then against the USA FREEDOM Act — despite previously being a co-sponsor for the bill — and limiting federal contracts with businesses that are incorporated in Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, both notorious tax havens. He’s even made an effort to stand up for human rights in Azerbaijan, although his record there isn’t perfect either.
So why the unabashed support of Putin?
It’s unclear, but there’s no doubt it’s in earnest. “There have been dramatic reforms in Russia that are not being recognized by my colleagues,” he told The New York Times last March. “The churches are full. [Editors note: They aren’t — a majority of Russians identify as Orthodox but most don’t attend services regularly.] There are opposition papers being distributed on every newsstand in Russia. You’ve got people demonstrating in the parks. You’ve got a much different Russia than it was under Communism, but you’ve got a lot of people who still can’t get over that Communism has fallen.”
The question, though, is Putin one of them? Some have pointed to Putin’s Crimean land-grab as a sign the former KGB officer is making a concerted effort to “rebuild” Soviet Russia — an effort that many Kremlin ideologues have endorsed. Plus, back in 2005, Putin did call the collapse of the Soviet Union “the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” So Rohrabacher’s honest-to-goodness endorsement of Russia so long as it’s not run by Soviets may not be the best way to make friends in the Kremlin. Indeed, he admits he his job has been a bit thankless. “I kind of wish I would get some sort of word back,” he said right before the House authorized to send $1 billion in aid to Ukraine in March 2014.
*Quotes have been cleaned up for clarity.