Vermont Public Radio Comment for Thursday March 20th, 2014

 

VPR 236 INTRO: Russia’s decision to annex Crimea is a major challenge to the United States and the European Union and to international stability. Today, commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore examines this apparent revival of the Cold War.

 

TEXT: There is no way to sugar coat it. An angry Russian President Vladimir Putin has blatantly annexed Crimea, a portion of Ukraine, contrary to International Law. The United States and the European Union condemned this action and imposed some punitive economic sanctions on a few Russian higher-ups. More serious ones are likely coming, especially if Russia moves against Ukraine’s predominantly ethnic Russian eastern region, which is quite possible. There are already troubling signs that this area is being caught up in a new Russian inspired nationalistic fervor- perhaps as a prelude to another Russian take-over.

 

The situation is very serious – it’s the most significant crisis in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War. And it could well become worse.

 

Amidst this bleak picture, the blame game in this country is gaining momentum. Senator John McCain has been leading the charge for many Republican members of Congress, almost daily blaming the crisis on President Barack Obama and his  “weak and feckless foreign policy.”  Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has piled on, chiding the president for his lack of leadership. Such partisanship is not helpful but is to be expected.

 

But there are other voices that deserve serious attention. As the National Security Council’s Russian specialist, Jack Matlock coached and helped guide President Ronald Reagan through his summits with Soviet Leader Mikael Gorbachev. Then as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow with unprecedented access to the Soviets, he helped Reagan and President George H.W. Bush negotiate the end of the Cold War and the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He wrote the definitive book on the subject: “Reagan and Gorbachev- How the Cold War Ended.”

Matlock’s credentials give high credibility to his op-ed on Ukraine in the Washington Post this past week – a column which is key to a more complete understanding of the current crisis. 

 

These are some of Matlock’s central points.

-Gorbachev maintained, “The end of the Cold War is our common victory.” Yet the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser.

-President Bill Clinton initiated bombing Russian ally Serbia, and encouraged the expansion of NATO to include Warsaw Pact Countries - contrary to American promises it would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat from Eastern Europe.

-Putin was the first foreign leader to call the U.S. to offer support after 9/11. He helped when America invaded Afghanistan, and closed Russian bases in Cuba and Vietnam.

And what, Matlock asks, did he get in return from President George W. Bush?  “The diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin: further expansion of NATO in the Baltics and the Balkans and plans for American bases there, withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the invasion of Iraq…and talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.”

 

Matlock does not suggest that Putin is blameless in the current standoff. But his analysis of how this crisis evolved, must be included in any discussions on how best to avoid a real Cold War II. 

 

 

 

 

- Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday March 6th, 2014

 

VPR235 INTRO: Much of the public discussion and reporting of the crisis in Ukraine has been to relate it to the Cold War. This morning, commentator Barrie Dunsmore, who as a foreign correspondent for ABC News reported on the Cold War for much of three decades, offers his perspective.

 

TEXT: The current stand-off with Russia over Ukraine is very serious and potentially very dangerous. It certainly has echoes of the Cold War, which dominated world affairs for nearly half a century. But in those days Soviet-American confrontations came with the real possibility of nuclear war. I still believe that prospect ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union - but what’s happening in Ukraine right now does have a Cold War connection.

 

As one who often worked in the Soviet Union, including during its collapse, I wondered then and still do, what would have happened if something similar had occurred in the United States? How would Americans have responded if suddenly their entire political, military and economic systems had been turned upside down?

 

That’s effectively what took place in the Soviet Union in the final years of the 1980s and it’s remarkable that it did not ignite a civil war. But among some Russians it did leave a seething resentment toward the West. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, who believes that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe in Russian history, is a product of such resentment.

 

Putin is an ultra- nationalist Russian with no interest in communist ideology. His goal is to restore Russia’s influence and power and the respect it once held as one of the world’s two super-powers. As such he is highly suspicious of European Union or NATO encroachment in his own back yard. And although Ukraine is now a sovereign state, it does have centuries of history with Russia and its loss to the West would be a huge loss of face for Putin personally.

 

Putin claims he acted to protect the ethnic Russian minority in Crimea. This is believed by virtually no one. It’s true the new government in Kiev doesn’t adequately reflect the Russian minority. But its real threat is to Putin’s continued domination over Ukrainian affairs. By keeping Ukraine a kleptocracy like Russia, where corruption is a way of life, neither Ukraine’s economy nor its democratic institutions have developed during independence, leaving it ever more vulnerable to Kremlin manipulation.

 

Putin rightly calculates the US and NATO are not going to go to war over this latest Russian military intervention, just as presidents Eisenhower, Johnson, Carter and Reagan considered nuclear war too great a price to save Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Afghanistan or Poland.

 

The old Soviet Union didn’t care what the world thought. But times have changed. In the new interdependent world where business reigns, Russia’s image matters. Putin just spent $50 billion on the Sochi Olympic Games to show off the new Russia – an investment that will be totally lost if things in Ukraine end badly. But if the current crisis is to end peacefully it will require deft diplomacy that involves providing Putin an exit ramp-in other words, a graceful way out. The use of monitors in Ukraine from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe may hold the key.




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