Patch­ing up re­la­tions with Rus­sia

The U.S. and NATO must dis­claim Eastern Europe if they ex­pect Moscow to do so

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Jerome Is­rael Jerome Is­rael is a for­mer se­nior ex­ec­u­tive at the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency and the FBI.

Rus­sians have an in­ter­est­ing way of ex­plain­ing why we should back them in Syria. They say that nearly ev­ery coun­try in the Mid­dle East is run by a dic­ta­tor. If you re­move that per­son, it up­sets a del­i­cate bal­ance which, in some cases, has been in place for decades. Chaos re­sults, if you then put your “own” peo­ple in power be­cause they tell you how much they love you; once in of­fice, “they will look at you with their butt.” That seems to be our ex­pe­ri­ence in Iraq and Afghanistan, while we have left Libya in a state of an­ar­chy. Hence, as de­plorable as Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad is, Rus­sia may be right about keep­ing him in power. Syria com­prises so many dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups and re­li­gions that the United States seems to be re­peat­ing the same mis­take of pick­ing win­ners and losers. We may also be re­peat­ing this mis­take in Ukraine.

Ef­forts in the West to in­cor­po­rate Ukraine within West­ern Europe, while po­ten­tially ex­tend­ing NATO fur­ther into Eastern Europe, sets off alarm bells and even panic in Moscow. The New York Times re­ported in Fe­bru­ary that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion wants to quadru­ple de­fense spend­ing in Cen­tral and Eastern Europe. This came as what U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers saw as a rea­son­able re­sponse to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in Ukraine and Moscow’s an­nex­a­tion of Crimea. But from the Rus­sian point of view, their ac­tions were in them­selves a re­sponse to NATO and the United States, which Rus­sian pol­i­cy­mak­ers be­lieve were be­hind an anti-Rus­sian coup in Kiev. Fol­low­ing the coup, Rus­sia acted to pro­tect its huge naval base in Crimea and eth­nic Rus­sians in West­ern Ukraine.

The two sides will no doubt ar­gue for years as to who threat­ened who first, but the up­shot has been a down­ward spi­ral in re­la­tions be­tween Moscow, West­ern Europe and the United States that is in no one’s long-term in­ter­ests. As both sides en­gage in tit-for-tat jabs at each other, rea­son­able peo­ple on both sides are ask­ing how far they will take all this in a world where both still pos­sess deadly nu­clear ar­se­nals.

As in Syria, the West lit­tle un­der­stands Ukraine and the chaos there. Rus­sian and non-Rus­sian cit­i­zens of Ukraine have good his­tor­i­cal rea­sons to dis­trust and dis­like each other, and each has rea­son to fear the con­se­quences of dom­i­na­tion by the other. A street in Kiev was re­cently named after Stepan Ban­dera, the new regime’s na­tional hero. This West­ern Ukrainian na­tion­al­ist is hated by Eastern Ukraini­ans for as­sist­ing the Nazis dur­ing the Sec­ond World War. In 1941, he de­clared an in­de­pen­dent Ukraine, which he hoped (in vain) could co­ex­ist with the Na­tional-So­cial­ist Greater Ger­many. His fol­low­ers par­tic­i­pated in the eth­nic cleans­ing of Poles and Jews in West­ern Ukraine.

Though wealthy in nat­u­ral re­sources, the coun­try is to­day an eco­nomic bas­ket case. The monthly pen­sion of one of my friend’s mother, a re­spected oph­thal­mol­o­gist who worked un­til she was 72, was re­cently cut to $60. The el­derly have been forced into poverty. The sit­u­a­tion is so dire that many young girls in Ukraine be­come pros­ti­tutes to sur­vive, and the coun­try has re­placed Thai­land as a ma­jor Euro­pean des­ti­na­tion for sex tourism. What a hor­ri­ble con­trast to the year 988 A.D. when Vladimir the Great bap­tized the proud Kievan Rus peo­ple in the Dnieper River, bring­ing Chris­tian­ity to Kiev and even­tu­ally Moscow.

NATO will cel­e­brate its 70th birth­day in 2019. Its orig­i­nal in­tent was to pro­tect against a resur­gence of Ger­many and to stymie the Com­mu­nist bear. Times change and so must NATO. The United States and a new NATO must turn to de-es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions with Rus­sia. This means end­ing the sanc­tions against Rus­sia and creat­ing a se­cu­rity agree­ment for Eastern Europe and the Baltics that re­quires both NATO and Rus­sia to pull back forces to non­threat­en­ing lo­ca­tions and to dis­con­tinue mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

As for Ukraine, it is not in the strate­gic in­ter­est of the United States to main­tain ten­sions in that coun­try in the hope that some­day it will flip to the NATO col­umn. Rus­sia has deep eco­nomic, his­tor­i­cal and spir­i­tual ties to Ukraine. With the death toll in Eastern Ukraine reach­ing 9,000, it is in­con­ceiv­able that Eastern Ukraine could rec­on­cile with the cur­rent gov­ern­ment. Sim­i­lar to the breakup of Yu­goslavia, a par­ti­tioned Ukraine may be the only way to solve this predica­ment. Then the United States, Rus­sia and the rest of the world can fo­cus on in­vest­ment in and the de­vel­op­ment of Ukraine’s econ­omy.


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