- - Monday, August 24, 2015

The intensity of the Ukrainian conflict continues to rise. There’s a non-stop flow of statements by high-level U.S. government officials suggesting Russia is the top threat to American national security or portraying Vladimir Putin as Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi and Osama bin Laden all rolled into one. (Some like Hillary Clinton also add Hitler to this pack.)  And Russian bombers buzz American airspace with growing frequency.

For those of us who lived through the hardships of the Cold War, there is an uneasy feeling that the United States and Russia are quickly edging towards direct military confrontation.

This is why it is important to make brief historical excursion into the not-so-distant past.

Those who witnessed - and especially those who helped bring about - the momentous changes in the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and in Russia in the early 1990s, remember only too well the overwhelming euphoria of those times.

The dark years of totalitarian communism were receding into the past, and the Russian people were ready and eager to join the great family of Western civilization and enjoy its basic values like human rights, the rule of law, democracy, freedom, a market economy and other real or imaginary benefits associated with them.

That was the time when fresh from the yoke of communism, the Russians were eager to embrace all of these ideals, and confidently expected them to materialize with the help, first and foremost, of the United States.

Instead Russia’s economy crashed worse than in World War II. Millions lost their jobs and the means of earning a livelihood. The freedom of pursuing economic prosperity morphed into the freedom of bandit capitalism which became the prevailing economic order.

It was not only the Russians who believed that the West actually abetted this state of affairs with its numerous advisors and IMF officials. Many Americans, too, including members of Congress, felt the same way as this was clearly portrayed in the 2000 Congressional report, “Russia’s Road to Corruption,” commissioned by then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

When it comes to foreign affairs, the Russians – not just the elite, but the citizenry as well – watched with amazement and shock at the methods used by the West to promote its “values.”

It’s important to remember that the new post-communist Russian leaders, who are now praised as being pro-Western and pro-democracy, were going out of their way to please America. Then-Russian president Boris Yeltsin even gave Washington a map of the electronic bugs in the U.S. embassy in Moscow as a sign of friendship and trust.

But NATO, which during the Cold War had just 12 member states to contain the real Soviet threat, went on an expansion spree to add 16 more countries (plus several still on the waiting list) to face a threat that did not exist any more.

Mr. Putin started his term in 2001 by continuing Mr. Yeltsin’s trend when he offered America more help in defeating the Taliban than all our NATO allies combined. I recall that at that time during our regular U.S.– Russia Forums on Capitol Hill one Member of Congress after another praised Mr. Putin as “our man in the Kremlin.”

Beyond NATO expansion, a big “thank you” note to Moscow came from Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama in the form of the bombing of Belgrade; unilateral abrogation of an ABM treaty; a democracy promotion crusade to oust legally elected governments on post-Soviet space through “color” revolutions.  At the same time the world witnesses the assaults on Iraq, Libya, and Syria; the “Arab Spring” - all leaving a bloody trail of countless dead, chaos, ruin, hatred and strife and, of course, all this was done strictly for the sake of promoting democracy and Western values.

“The reason we promote democracy around the world is that democratic countries do not start wars”, said George W. Bush many times before and after invading Iraq.

But It took his brother, Jeb, some time and effort to finally admit during the recent Fox News debates that his brother was wrong to do that.

How long will we have to wait to hear that Mr. Obama’s Libya and Syria policies were also a huge mistake? The result was not only utter misery and devastation in those countries, but also an enormous flow of African and Middle-Eastern refugees to Europe, not to mention the rise of ISIS - a new generation of terrorists who easily put Al-Qaida to shame.

In Ukraine, we are also told that the overthrow of the legitimate president and bringing this country into association with EU had nothing to do with geopolitics but rather the further promotion of democracy and Western values.

But the reality is the idea behind this EU association scheme was not only to weaken the Russian economy by breaking its strong commercial ties with Ukraine but also to bring Ukraine into NATO through the back door since the majority of Ukrainians did not want their country to join this bloc.

The Ukrainian crisis can be resolved immediately if Washington and Brussels put pressure on Kiev to accept the two pretty modest demands of the separatists: the country’s federalization and acknowledging Russian as the second language. Last time I checked, Canada is a federation with two official languages, while Switzerland is a federation with four. Incidentally, isn’t the United States a federation as well? And while Spanish is not the official language de-jure, it definitely is so de-facto.

Let us be realistic. The chances for Washington to change its stand on Ukraine with the current administration are close to zero. European poodles, as Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland or Vice-President Joe Biden rightly observed, do not count. That means that the probability of direct military collision between America and Russia is growing on a daily basis.

Of course, we can always wait on aliens, who according to the former astronaut Edgar Mitchell, the sixth man to walk on the moon, are coming to Earth to stop this war,

But the question nevertheless remains: what are the Western values and who is promoting them these days?

Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow.

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