Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow, Professor of Moscow Sate and National Research Nuclear Universities
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, so endlessly blaming Putin by repeating that in the 21st century you do not behave like in the 19th U.S.President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sound pretty pathetic and make themselves an easy target for sarcastic smiles or strong rebuttal.
As Martin Sieff said in the Globalist"The rules that he [Obama] applied to Russia — and one can certainly make that case — are evidently applied not at all when it comes to assessing the United States’s own aggressive foreign policy moves." Including those in the 21st century, one might add.
Therefore, instead of empty posturing 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 a wise thing to do. 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 the 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 and missile defense -- America and Russia can benefit from close cooperation.
However, the most important factor, which may well be existential for America, is that worsening relations with the United States will inevitably push Russia toward China. Actually, this is already happening.
As David Andelman bitterly complained 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.”
China, of course, does some political maneuvering like abstaining during the recent UN Security Council Crimea vote. This was a smart but at the same time a pretty symbolic gesture in view of Russia's veto but when it comes to real business, there is no doubt where Russia and China are going. Andelman’s headline about Russia and China been new best chums might be a slight exaggeration but 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 not only appears futile, it shows total ignorance both of the Russian people’s stoicism that helped them survive on bread and water for decades, and of the globalized structure of the world economy. Since 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 be a blessing for Russia 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 torecent polls we are already witnessing a surge of patriotism in the public, Putin’s popularity ratings are sky-rocketing, and the pro-Western opposition is dwindling into total insignificance.
The irresponsible calls by certain U.S. politicians for punishing Russia, Putin and his "cronies,” and 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 we stay 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. Actually, even according to International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde, the Ukrainian economy was already saved last year by Russian funding. Nowadays, even European leaders insist that, for a start, Ukraine should do its utmost to liquidate armed gangs that have now left the Maidan and are rampaging all over the place; without this, any talk of free elections and rescuing its 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 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 for Russia 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, or even as they often call each other brothers, were warmly welcomed at every imaginable Western agency as bona fide Europeans, not at all like those Russian barbarians.
As we watch the continuous unfolding of Ukrainian drama which may lead not only to the new Cold War, which is probably already in effect anyway, but to even more dangerous scenarios, the only way to calm things down for Obama is to stop posturing and instead of keep threatening Putin with more sanctions sit down with him for a frank talk to discuss a real reset, not a phony one.
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. In regards to Russia Washington has firmly adopted a policy of rejecting even the possibility of making it 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.
However, it is pretty obvious that this policy failed miserably and it is high time to change it drastically in the spirit of pragmatism. It is simply vital for America to seek a new, mutually beneficial relationship with Russia.
egrettably, the chances for that are minimal as one needs a President with the vision of FDR or Ronald Reagan to make such a bold step.