Utley: Worry Less About Putin, More About Growing Security State in U.S.

By Barbara Hollingsworth | April 23, 2014 | 1:33 PM EDT

Jon Basil Utley (FGF Foundation)

(CNSNews.com) – President Obama is handling the situation in Ukraine “the right way,” says Moscow-born Jon Basil Utley, publisher of The American Conservative.

And Americans should be more concerned about the growing security state in the U.S. than Russian president Vladimir Putin’s military incursion into Eastern Europe, Utley told CNSNews.com.

On March 17th, the day after Crimeans voted to joint the Russian Federation, President Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against the Russian government if it did not stop violating “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

On Monday, White House press secretary Jay Carney warned of “consequences” if Russia, which has 40,000 troops positioned near the Ukrainian border, did not comply.

But Utley, a former businessman and longtime journalist, pointed out that the real reason for Putin's actions is that Russia feels threatened by ongoing attempts to bring the Ukraine into NATO, a point Putin himself acknowledged.

“When the Russians got out of Eastern Europe, the agreement with Secretary of State [James] Baker – this was in the first Bush’s term– was that NATO would not expand into East Europe. The U.S. agreed to this, and then broke the agreement,” he told CNSNews.com.

“So we would be going to war because of a tiny border incursion when our hands are not completely clean?” Utley asked. “It’s just preposterous. We should be careful and not be dragged into these things.”

He added that the Crimea, which he says "is more Russian than Ukrainian," holds a special historical significance for Russians.

“I was in Sevastapol and the Crimea three years ago for a meeting of our group, European Resource Bank, which is a free market promotion group,” Utley told CNSNews.com. “I toured the old battlefield of Sevastopol.

“What’s forgotten is that during the battle in the Crimea in the Second World War, the Russians held out and lost 100,000 men keeping the Germans there, and that delayed the Germans from getting those divisions to Stalingrad, where the Germans were finally defeated. It was all because of the battle in Sevastapol. It would be like Texas giving up the Alamo to Mexico, it’s so much a part of their identity.”

Utley also thinks it would be all but “impossible” for Putin to resurrect the old Soviet Union. The Russian Army is “very weak,” with rampant corruption and military units at only two-thirds of their manpower capacity, he told CNSNews.com.

“I’m sure he’d like to, but there’s no way he has the capacity to,” Utley pointed out, adding that Russia is also economically dependent on energy sales and credit from the West. “But remember, in Washington we have all sorts of elements that want to create this kind of a threat because they’re being hurt by the [defense] budget cuts.”

After living under both Soviet communist and Nazi regimes, Utley says he’s more concerned about the growing encroachments on Americans’ liberties than he is about the specter of a rising Soviet Union.

“It’s not just me. People who come from that background, we’re all concerned about keeping our freedoms here, in America,” he told CNSNews.com.

“What alarms people like myself, who come from the totalitarians…is that Republicans are perfectly willing to give up much of the Constitution in the name of security because they’re afraid of terrorists,” he said, noting that “the biggest steps toward socialism came under the Republicans.”

What worries him most, Utley says, are “the laws that are being passed now giving the president virtually dictatorial powers; it's not reported.

“The Military Commissions Act was passed. The president alone can declare martial law. He can move National Guard divisions from one state to another on his own authority.

“Declaring martial law, even for bad weather, I might add. Martial law means the president can order the Army to go into your home, take anything, arrest you. That was done, I think, in the Civil War, they had it [then]. This is a law that was passed in peacetime with no great threat to us.

“Most recently, the National Defense Authorization Act says that anybody who is accused of aiding the enemy can be arrested by the United States, I think the military, if he’s declared martial law. And they say ‘aiding the enemy,’ so if you criticize the war, as I did, the Iraq war, that would be called aiding the enemy," he said.

“My father was taken away by secret police in Russia. What we are losing here is our constitutional freedoms. The Fourth Amendment about unjust search and seizure is all the time being violated. And this comes up with just as much Republicans supporting it, if not more, than Democrats.

“That concerns us, people like myself, more than the economic front.”

“The common belief is that if you don’t do anything wrong, you don’t have to worry about the police state,” he said. “And the president could not normally enforce some of these things, there’d be such a stink. But when you have a war, then all bets are off. People don’t think that this could happen to us…. But if we have continuing warfare, we’re going to lose our freedoms, because there’ll always be threats and new enemies.”

Utley is the son of former British labor union leader Freda Utley and Arkadi Berdichevksy, a Russian Jewish trade official. When Utley was two, Berdichevsky was arrested by the secret police in Moscow. He was executed in 1938 by a firing squad after leading a hunger strike in one of Stalin’s concentration camps, “where they were sending women who were late for work because they were ‘not doing their proper share’,” Utley told CNSNews.com.

Jon Basil Utley going through his father's KGB file in Moscow in 2004. (Freda Utley Foundation)

Although both of his parents were socialists who initially supported the Bolshevik Revolution, Freda Utley became disillusioned with the Soviet system after her husband’s arrest.

She escaped to England and then moved to the U.S., where she  became a well-known anti-communist author. One of her books, “Lost Illusion,” details her life in Russia during the 1920s and ‘30s.

“She went through the Ukraine with my father, when the peasant children were begging for food at the railway stations. That’s when Stalin was doing the collectivization of agriculture, when millions of Ukrainians starved to death.

"I grew up with these stories,” Utley told CNSNews.com.

Ten years ago, he went back to Moscow for the first time to look through the voluminous archives of the secret police, where he finally found out what happened to his father. “They had some of the best pictures I have of him, because they were in the files for 70 years,” he said.

Return to the Gulag,” a 2009 documentary of Utley’s trip to Russia, was produced by the Boston College Department of Fine Arts.