The view from Moscow and why the United States needs to reset its relations with the Kremlin, immediately.
Any nation's foreign policy, including those of the most liberal and democratic states, rests on the frankly cynical what's-good-for-us-is-supremely-just principle, and those who don't like it can jolly well lump it. Taken a bit further, this philosophy can be extended to include the biblical wisdom of "he that is not with us is against us."
The tragic events currently under way in Ukraine are no exception to these rules, and endlessly blaming Vladimir Putin for acting like a 19th-century sovereign in the 21st, does nothing to change them.
Instead of empty posturing then, let us stay pragmatic and simply try to analyze whether there is any profit for America in quarreling with Russia.
There's a long list of reasons why picking a fight with Moscow is not wise. For the sake of brevity, let us just name the first 10, without further elaboration: international terrorism, nuclear nonproliferation, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria, North Korea, drug trafficking, developing the Arctic region, continued space exploration, and global warming. None of these challenges can be met by American might alone. The list can be extended almost indefinitely, as practically in any field -- from agriculture to nuclear energy to missile defense -- both the United States and Russia can benefit from close cooperation.
But worsening relations with Moscow also threaten to unleash a dangerous -- and, for Washington, a deleterious -- geopolitical shift: pushing Russia toward China. As World Policy Journal editor David Andelman warned in USA Today, " U.S. and Western European sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies, however just their cause, risk undoing what more than half a century of American presidents sought to foster -- continued division and distrust between China and Russia."
Beijing, of course, has done some political maneuvering to shore up appearances, such as abstaining during the recent U.N. Security Council vote on Crimea. (It mattered little, of course, due to Russia's veto.) But when it comes to real business, there is no doubt where Russia and China are headed: a few very important and large-scale deals are expected to be signed during Putin's upcoming visit to Beijing next month, including a 30-year deal to redirect Russia's vast gas supplies to China. Kathrin Hille from the Financial Times who interviewed Dmitry Kobylkin, the governor of Yamal-Nenets region, a vast territory with one of Russia's largest oil and gas resources, quotes him as saying that, "We will be talking about a huge package that might include Chinese involvement in developing infrastructure in Siberia and the Far East."
As for the talk of forcing Russia into retreating from Crimea through G-8 expulsion or economic sanctions, this is not only futile but shows total ignorance not only of the Russian people's stoicism that helped them survive on bread and water for decades, but also of the globalized structure of the world economy. As few countries besides some NATO members appear willing to join in the U.S. and European sanction regime, the biggest damage may be blowback -- retaliation by Russian business against the states that have imposed these measures.
Indeed, Western sanctions could well be a blessing for the Kremlin as they will force it to step up its efforts to consolidate relationships with its fellow BRICS, and develop more robust relationships with international multilaterals such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and the Eurasian Union to speed up the diversification of Russia's economy.
According to recent polls, a surge of patriotism is coursing among the Russian public, Putin's popularity ratings are sky-rocketing, and the pro-Western opposition is dwindling into total insignificance.
Meanwhile, the irresponsible calls by certain U.S. politicians for punishing Russia, Putin, and his "cronies" -- or for destroying Russia's economy -- run counter to U.S. long-term interests. As usual, the American public is much smarter than politicians, as the majority prefer that Washington stays out of Ukraine's affairs.
Ukraine can only be helped if the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and Russia join forces to immediately provide a rescue financial package. (According to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the Ukrainian economy was already saved last year by Russian funding.) For a start, however, Kiev should heed European leaders' insistence that the government do its utmost to liquidate the armed gangs that have now left the Maidan and are rampaging all over the place. Without this, any talk of free elections and rescuing Ukraine's economy will be so much hot air. As for Washington, it is much too far away from Crimea to play a consistent and effective role as the world's policeman -- particularly in a region that lacks real strategic value for the United States.
For the last 20-odd years, every Russian leader -- from Gorbachev and Yeltsin, to Medvedev and Putin -- kept sending strong signals to Washington and Brussels about their desire to become an important part of the Western security and economic architecture, only to be obnoxiously rebuffed by American and EU leaders. The West, in its victor's arrogance, looked down on Russia like a high and mighty lord does on a poor relation. Oddly enough, Ukrainians -- who, when all is said and done, are not all that different from their Russian cousins -- were warmly welcomed at every imaginable Western agency as bona fide Europeans, not at all like those barbarians in Moscow.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a euphoric West assumed this was the "end of history" -- the irreversible triumph of democracy and the free market, as defined by Western elites. Since then, Washington has firmly adopted a policy of rejecting even the possibility of making Russia an equal partner in a Euro-Atlantic alliance as a means of promoting regional and world stability. Instead, it continues to pursue the same shortsighted policies intended to drive a weakened Russia into a geopolitical corner -- and keep it there.
This sorry state of affairs has brought us to the brink of a new Cold War, and even more dangerous scenarios are presenting themselves. The only way to calm things down is for President Obama to stop posturing and threatening Putin with more sanctions; he needs to sit down with his Russian counterpart for a frank talk to discuss a real reset, not a phony one. It's time for the United States to seek a new, pragmatic, mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.
Regrettably, the chances for that are slim. And I fear we are in for tough times ahead.
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