Washington, Moscow can be al­lies on key world is­sues

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - By Vik­tor Ole­vich Vik­tor Ole­vich is a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst, lead ex­pert of the Cen­ter for Ac­tual Pol­i­tics.

Great power pol­i­tics is an art in man­ag­ing ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ships on the in­ter­na­tional stage. Ideas floated in the late 1980s and early 1990s, sug­gest­ing that Rus­sia and the United States could form a strong and last­ing alliance, de­fied geopo­lit­i­cal logic. How­ever, that does not mean Moscow and Washington can­not main­tain a re­la­tion­ship based on mu­tual re­spect and find com­mon ground on re­solv­ing at least some of the core prob­lems fac­ing the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to­day.

The end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s swift dis­so­lu­tion cre­ated an at­mos­phere of ex­u­ber­ant tri­umphal­ism and in­stilled a vic­tory cul­ture in the Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy and de­fense es­tab­lish­ment. In the 1990s, Washington’s power elite came to be­lieve that Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and mil­i­tary pre­dom­i­nance in the world was per­ma­nent and ir­re­versible. In 1992, Fran­cis Fukuyama posited in his “The End of His­tory and the Last Man” that the global as­cent of the Amer­i­can lib­eral or­der will bring about an end to ide­o­log­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion as we know it.

Prom­ises made to then-Soviet Pres­i­dent Mikhail Gor­bachev guar­an­tee­ing that NATO will not ex­pand be­yond Ger­man bor­ders were al­most im­me­di­ately dis­carded. Suc­ces­sive Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can ad­min­is­tra­tions paid lip ser­vice to friendly re­la­tions with Moscow, while push­ing the en­ve­lope of NATO ex­pan­sion fur­ther east to­ward the Rus­sian bor­der, fi­nally in­cor­po­rat­ing the three for­mer Baltic re­publics of the USSR and call­ing for fu­ture mem­ber­ship in the mil­i­tary bloc for Ukraine and Ge­or­gia.

Fur­ther in­flam­ing the ten­sions, the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion took upon it­self to uni­lat­er­ally ab­ro­gate the 1972 Anti-Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile (ABM) Treaty, which for decades served as the corner­stone of strate­gic nu­clear bal­ance be­tween the two coun­tries, start­ing on an am­bi­tious pro­gram of build­ing mis­sile in­ter­cep­tor sites po­si­tioned on Rus­sia’s bor­ders. Moscow’s ob­jec­tions on both counts were plainly ig­nored.

The seeds of mis­trust cur­rently ham­per­ing the ail­ing Rus­sian-Amer­i­can re­la­tions were sewn back then. If the words of Amer­i­can lead­ers could not be trusted, and if Washington did not see a place for a strong and suc­cess­ful Rus­sia in its New World Or­der, then Moscow had to act to pro­tect its na­tional sovereignty and as­sure the se­cu­rity of its cit­i­zens by means that were avail­able to it un­der the cir­cum­stances.

What hap­pened next set the stage for the ram­pant hys­te­ria con­cern­ing Rus­sia’s role in the world and in U.S. pol­i­tics Washington is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing to­day.

In 2013 Rus­sia be­came the first coun­try to suc­cess­fully pre­vent an al­ready planned out U.S. mil­i­tary strike against a third coun­try. Moscow’s dra­matic diplo­matic in­ter­ces­sion al­lowed chem­i­cal weapons stocks to be re­moved and de­stroyed in Syria, with­out a sin­gle Amer­i­can mis­sile be­ing fired off U.S. naval ves­sels in the Mediter­ranean. The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, striv­ing for the over­throw of Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad, pro­ceeded to pro­vide covert mil­i­tary, com­mu­ni­ca­tions and eco­nomic as­sis­tance to var­i­ous rebel op­po­si­tion groups of ques­tion­able re­pute. Rus­sia’s suc­cess in pro­tect­ing its ally in Syria stunned the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and Washington’s for­eign pol­icy man­agers. Af­ter all, it seemed just two decades be­fore, in their for­ma­tive years, that Rus­sia was the sick man of Europe, that Moscow was firmly on a tra­jec­tory of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic desta­bi­liza­tion and col­lapse.

For the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal class, which al­lowed it­self to be­lieve that Pax Amer­i­cana was forever, any suc­cess­ful move to defy Washington’s will in the world was not just a geopo­lit­i­cal, but an ide­o­log­i­cal and even psy­cho­log­i­cal blow.

In­stead of seek­ing com­pro­mise, Washington dou­bled down. The old or­der had to be pre­served at all costs, whether it was pro­vid­ing sup­port for more and more rad­i­cal Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ist groups fight­ing against gov­ern­ment forces in Syria or ex­treme na­tion­al­ist forces in Ukraine, un­leash­ing a bloody civil war against their na­tion’s own Rus­sian-speak­ing pop­u­la­tions. Rus­sia’s at­tempts to ne­go­ti­ate a last­ing truce in Syria with then-U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry were knocked down by the Pen­tagon and CIA. At one point in late 2016, in a bout of anger and ap­par­ent help­less­ness, of­fi­cials at Foggy Bot­tom even an­nounced that it was ceas­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with Rus­sia on the topic of Syria al­to­gether, only to re­sume them a few days later. De­spite the suc­cess­ful out­come of mul­ti­fac­eted ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tehran, in which Moscow worked to­gether with Washington, co­op­er­a­tion on other top­ics of mu­tual con­cern was pur­pose­fully lim­ited by the Obama White House.

Dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s, Cold War tem­pers flared from time to time, but geopo­lit­i­cal com­pe­ti­tion was an expected and ac­cepted part of the in­ter­na­tional scene. It was cer­tainly not a sur­prise to any­one and did not elicit hys­ter­i­cal or un­pre­dictable re­ac­tions from ei­ther side. Dur­ing the years of de­tente, Soviet lead­ers had cor­dial and at times even overtly warm sum­mits with their Amer­i­can coun­ter­parts. Amer­i­can astro­nauts docked in space with Soviet cos­mo­nauts (“Soyuz–Apollo”). Amer­i­can tourists vis­ited Soviet ci­ties and were fre­quent trav­el­ers on Soviet cruise ships. This did not make Washington and Moscow al­lies, but it helped make their ad­ver­sar­ial re­la­tion­ship more man­age­able and pre­dictable.

The hys­ter­i­cal re­ac­tion of sig­nif­i­cant and in­flu­en­tial sec­tions of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment to the elec­tion of a new U.S. pres­i­dent, who sim­ply stated his will­ing­ness to seek com­pro­mise with Rus­sia, shows how un­pre­pared Washington still is to ac­cept the fad­ing of the Amer­i­can­dom­i­nated New World Or­der of the 1990s and the tran­si­tion to a mul­ti­po­lar world.

The sooner Washington ac­cepts the new re­al­ity on the ground, the sooner it would be pos­si­ble to re­build health, con­struc­tive and pro­duc­tive re­la­tions be­tween two great pow­ers that have a com­mon stake in as­sur­ing global po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

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