As we move closer to the historic November elections, the intensity of the US-Russia crisis continues to rise.
There is a non-stop flow of statements by high-level US politicos from both parties and the media suggesting Russia is now the foremost threat to American national security and democracy.
According to the Washington Post, Russia may not need to hack the 2020 elections “since it can hack something else: our minds.” Foreign Policy magazine endorses this narrative by warning that the Russians “only have to scare us into thinking that there is a Kremlin agent messing with every machine, and a troll writing every Facebook post.” The latest pearl from Russiagate scriptwriters asserts that it was the Kremlin who penetrated Hunter Biden’s laptop to insert compromising materials about his father.
When you constantly hear, see and read this kind of rhetoric, there is an uneasy feeling that the United States and Russia are quickly edging towards direct military confrontation with mega catastrophic consequences for both countries and the world.
With such dark possibilities on our horizon, it is worth asking: is there anything we can do to avoid this tragic scenario? The answer is “yes” but before we explore some of those solutions, it will be useful to take a brief historical excursion to see what has brought us to the current precarious situation.
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. After years of suffering, they were ready to enjoy basic values like freedom, democracy, human rights, the rule of law, a market economy, and other real or imaginary benefits associated with them.
In April 1989, even before collapse of the USSR, a large American delegation went to Moscow, on Gorbachev’s team invitation, headed by two acting US Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Bob Kasten (R-WI) accompanied by two ambassadors, several foreign policy experts, journalists, and even exiled Soviet dissidents in order to have discussions with leading Soviet experts and government officials about “understanding the values of western civilization.”
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.
At that time President George H.W. Bush was talking about a new emerging security architecture “from Vancouver to Vladivostok” and warned Ukrainians against breaking away from Russia. Secretary of State James Baker persuaded Gorbachev that if the Russian leader consented to Germany’s reunification NATO would not expand one inch to the East.
Unfortunately, Bush lost elections in 1992 and with Bill Clinton in the White House, all our dreams of Russia becoming a part of the West were trashed.
There are many stories describing how this train wreck happened, but the best one can be found in the 2000 congressional report signed by many House members.
According to this report, Clinton decided to devolve decision making on Russia policy to Vice President Al Gore, Strobe Talbott at the State Department, and Lawrence Summers at the Treasury Department.
The results of this “troika” work are well known. 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 forces in the west consciously brought about this dismal state of affairs alongside its numerous advisors and IMF officials.
John Lloyd, former Moscow bureau chief for the Financial Times wrote that the United States poisoned Russia’s transition from communism to freedom by allowing the oligarchs — in the name of the free market — to grab Russia’s resources and siphon anything of value into their own offshore bank accounts. According to Lloyd In the minds of ordinary Russians “capitalism became equated with theft.”
Washington Post columnist David Ignatius in his August 1999 article titled “Who Robbed Russia? Did Al Gore know about the massive lootings?” answers that this is indeed the case.
“What makes the Russian case so sad is that the Clinton administration may have squandered one of the most precious assets imaginable — which is the idealism and goodwill of the Russian people as they emerged from 70 years of Communist rule. The Russia debacle may haunt us for generations. Gore played a key role in that messy process, and he has a lot of explaining to do,” states Ignatius who also added evidence of “damning details of U.S. complicity in this process” cited by the Post’s former Moscow bureau chief, Robert Kaiser.
Well, this was in 1999, nowadays this paper and with the rare exceptions the rest of US mainstream media is doing everything possible to promote the Russiagate and block any other story that does not fit this theory.
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.”
During the post-Soviet years, NATO, which during the Cold War had just 16 member states to contain the real Soviet threat, went on an expansion spree to add 13 more countries (plus Georgia and Ukraine still on the waiting list) to face a threat that did not exist anymore.
Former US Ambassador in Moscow George Kennan called the NATO expansion started under Clinton “a tragic mistake” while Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that when talking about NATO expansion “we’re talking about nuclear war.”
Mr. Putin started his term in 2001 by continuing Gorbachev’s and Yeltsin’s trend towards partnership with the US when he offered America more help in Afghanistan than all NATO allies combined. I recall that at that time during our regular US-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 fat “thank you” note to Moscow came from Presidents Clinton, Bush, Jr and Obama in the form of the bombing of Belgrade, unilateral abrogation of an ABM treaty, and a democracy promotion crusade to oust legally elected governments on post-Soviet space through “color” revolutions. At the same time the world witnessed the assaults on Iraq, Libya, Syria and the “Arab Spring” more broadly, with each intervention leaving a bloody trail of countless dead, chaos, ruin, hatred and strife. Of course, all this was done strictly for the sake of promoting democracy and “western values” but 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 were also told that the overthrow of the legitimate president and the absorption of this country into an association with EU had nothing to do with geopolitics but was simply the advance of democracy and, of course, the western values.
However, the uncomfortable reality behind the myth projected by Washington, was that the EU association scheme was always designed to not only weaken Russia by breaking its historical, family, religious and commercial ties with Ukraine but also to bring Ukraine into NATO through the back door since at that time the majority of Ukrainians did not want their country to join this bloc.
Closer to home the evidence continues to accumulate about the Russiagate hoax when DNI head John Ratcliffe disclosed that US intelligence agencies had information “alleging that US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had approved a campaign plan to stir up a scandal against Donald Trump by tying him to Putin and the Russia’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee.”
Not only was this a direct attempt of coup d’état but it could and still might lead us to the war with the major nuclear power.
Pathways for Peace
An obvious question remains: Is there anything that can be done to avoid a looming disaster and are there any win-win projects that can benefit all sides as we navigate through the coming storm?
President Trump keeps repeating that positive relations with Russia are good for America but so far he was not able to supplement these words with deeds due to the strong resistance from the swarms of war mongers on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps his second term unburdened by the weight of Russiagate might provide him the freedom to advance on his stated objectives in ways that were not possible over the previous 4 years.
One vital area for peaceful cooperation is the vast undeveloped Arctic zone which has already attracted partners from around the world. President Trump’s recent endorsement of the Alaska-Canada rail project is an excellent complement to the Russian Program/Polar Silk Road extension into the North. More importantly, this project represents a break from the Warhawks who have sought only to spread military confrontation onto Russia’s northern border. If it isn’t sabotaged, this project would bring the long-awaited Bering Strait tunnel project which both Russia and China have already endorsed ever closer to reality.
Another gateway towards US-Russia cooperation represents the International North South Transportation corridor stretching from Russia through the Caucasus to Iran and then India which is increasingly part of the emerging Polar Silk Road. If the USA chooses to apply the economic development model used to help steer the Serbia-Kosovo conflict towards a peaceful resolution, then the opportunities for the creation of new development zones in Armenia and Azerbaijan are endless.
While we are at it, why shouldn’t the US and Russia embark on providing long term nuclear energy projects to the developing sector? Russia has already become a primary exporter of nuclear power development to Africa and in the last weeks, Trump has green lighted nuclear reactor construction for South Africa and Poland using the International Development Finance Corporation that could feasibly become a major tool of global growth. The vast need for desalination across the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the drought-ravaged west coast of the USA itself, make the peaceful application of nuclear energy an absolute must for the 21st century.
Other domains for cooperation that could benefit the whole world include food and water security for many countries experiencing problems with these vital supplies.
In the not so distant past the US and USSR were also often on the brink of nuclear war but Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush managed to turn the relations between the two major nuclear powers from confrontation to friendship and in some cases even to partnership. If Trump follows their ideas we might still avoid the looming catastrophe and correct the damage done by his three predecessors.
Those who have some other good ideas how to save our planet are welcome to join the discussions on this subject by registering on www.RussiaHouse.org/wrf.php
• Edward Lozansky is President of American University in Moscow. His book “Building US-Russia Bridges” is available on Amazon. Matthew Ehret is Senior Fellow of American University in Moscow and co-founder of Rising Tide Foundation.