It seems its near impossible in our current period, to turn on the news or surf the internet without coming across a news piece that regards Russia in a negative light. Not only are they apparently responsible for the election of Donald Trump, they are aggressively challenging the US and its allies across the globe. They ‘invaded’ Ukraine and Crimea, support well-known dictators such as Assad in Syria and if one were to ask an American Politician in the wake of another erratic presidential tweet, the Russians might be responsible for just about everything that has gone awry in the world.
But what if there was another side to this new cold war fever that is sweeping the west? What if the furious outrage that is at least partially fueled by the outcome of the 2016 presidential election, is not only clouding our vision but making our problems worse?
The reality is, that if one can temporarily suspend their disdain for Vladimir Putin, this Russia phobia that is not only being directed towards the Russian president, but the Russian people as well, is not serving the Wests’ interest and certainly not the world’s.
An immediate example of this, is the new alliance we are seeing in Eurasia. Russia and China, a power that most see as a competitor and some see as a great threat, are more aligned politically, economically and militarily than they have possibly ever been. In a recent event, Russian and Chinese military aircraft buzzed South Korean and Japanese air defenses that led to the Koreans firing warning shots to thwart off the intruders. The militaries of the two countries have been holding joint exercises and a little over a year ago, Xi Jinping called Putin, “my best, most intimate friend.”
This new alliance of the Eurasian powers is most for sure made possible by the US and EU’s refusal to work with Putin and instead install sanction after sanction. Now you might be thinking, “Well yes but Russia brought these sanctions on themselves with their aggressive actions in Ukraine and Crimea, the hacking of the 2016 election and a multitude of other things.”
Well unbeknownst to many, there is actually a different perspective on these situations, how they unfolded and they are very worthy of being heard.
Stephen F. Cohen, professor Emeritus of Russian Studies at New York University and author of the book, “War with Russia? From Putin and Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate” has perhaps been the best articulator of the stance of Russia for years, in a hope that relations between East and West would improve. Sadly, his work has often fallen on deaf ears. Cohen, whose critics call him “A Putin Apologist,” is a self-described lifelong democrat and patriot, and has struggled to come to terms with how his country has behaved towards Russia, especially since the collapse of the USSR.
Take the Ukraine crisis for example. Cohen reveals factual evidence that appears to have been swept under the rug, which shows how our ideas about how the crisis unfolded, are either not entirely accurate or even downright false. The Ukraine conflict may have actually been started by the US, who despite telling Gorbachev in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, would never extend NATO, (an alliance of nations founded solely for the purpose of deterring and defending itself against the Soviet Union, a government that no longer exists) east of Germany, has been attempting to steer the country away from Russia influence for well over a decade. George Bush himself attempted to ‘fast track’ Ukraine into NATO early in his second term but the action was vetoed by France and Germany. Professor Cohen points out, that the match that lit the Ukraine crisis happened when Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovych, declined to immediately sign a partnership with the EU, that had the country, with deep historical and cultural ties with Russia, align economically, in civilizational values and even in security and military policy with NATO. Putin attempted to persuade the EU to include Russia in the economic agreement so Moscow would not lose it’s important economic relationship with it’s neighbor but mysteriously, the EU refused. Violent protests erupted all over Kiev and soon after Yanukovych was forced to flee the country by the opposition, but not before signing an agreement brokered by EU Ministers, that set up a coalition government and allowed for a ‘democratic’ election to be held immediately.
Cohen reports that despite the media portraying Yanukovych as ‘pro Kremlin,’ it is well known in Russia and Ukraine that Putin regarded the president as “a greedy opportunist.” Adding to the irony is the fact that the now disgraced Paul Manofort, accused by the US media of being a Russian agent, as Yanukovych’s electoral advisor, was a Pro-EU and NATO lobbyist that pushed against Putin’s interests.
As the crisis escalated, violence and riots rocked Kiev, a good chunk of it driven by ultra nationalist groups who not only despised Russia but held little regard for the EU and NATO as well. The US and The EU supported these groups both financially and through the sale of armaments. Shockingly enough, Cohen reveals that one of these nationalist groups that was responsible for killing 90 people during the riots in Kiev, was linked to having very far right elements.
Cohen acknowledges that Russia is not completely exonerated in the events that followed but looking at it from both sides, it is hard not to see Russia’s course of action as perhaps the more justified. Ukraine is home to many ethnic Russians and when nationalist groups strived to sever all ties with Moscow and even ban the Russian language in some regions. Putin, who has his own share of nationalists to contend with at home, chose to intervene on behalf of the rebels.
An interesting question that should be asked is, what would the United States do if China, financially backed an anti American political party in Mexico and financially and militarily supported a coup to overthrow the government? Is Russia really acting so ‘aggressively?’
As of relatively recently, the defeat of Petro Poroshenko in the Ukrainian presidential election, shows many in the country do not share the strong nationalist zeal and anti-russia sentiment, that our media would like us to believe. Poroshenko’s administration and reelection which had the full financial and political backing of the west, pushed for restrictions on the usage of the Russian language, travel to Russia, trade with Russia and even social contact with Russians. One can only hope that President Petro Poroshenko, can find a way to work out a deal in which both sides can benefit.
Adding to some inconvenient truths in our descent into a new cold war, is the memory of Russia’s economic struggles in the 1990’s, in which not only did the iconic soviet middle class collapse but in consequence a substantial gap between the rich and poor developed, that not only had Russians reeling but had those same policies that brought on the struggle, supported by the Clinton administration politically and financially in President Boris Yeltsin’s reelection campaign of 1996. Yes in case you didn’t know, The United States also meddles in elections. Particularly, Russia’s elections.
While Putin’s government is known to have its strong critics at home, the youth of the nation who see the West’s deliberate decisions to isolate their country, are beginning to see the former KGB operative as a defender of their civilization. In a piece written in National Geographic’s December 2016 issue, a reporter on assignment in Russia, writes that the youth enjoy “the stability and normalcy” that Putin has brought and despise the condescending and often insulting manner that westerners treat them with (3).
If the West truly wants to share the fruits of democracy and our way of life with the world, forcing our values down their throats while simultaneously attempting to economically and culturally suffocate those who don’t get in line, probably is not the best approach.
Putin has potentially always wanted to work with The United States and the West. He showed this in an a near forgotten series of events that occurred in the aftermath of 9/11, when the Russian President was one of the first foreign heads of state to call President Bush and offer his condolences and support for military action in Afganistan. Very few recall that The United States and Russia actually, jointly worked together and shared intelligence in the fight against the Taliban and terrorism before US officials apparently began to find the relationship undesirable.
It would be inaccurate to propose that Russia’s hands are clean in every encounter and event that has occurred in the last two decades. The crackdown on dissent and journalists is unappealing to say the least, but perhaps being so tough on a government that has been labeled by political scientists as, “Soft Authoritarianism” is expecting too much from a culture and nation whose past is scarred with the rule of the Czars, Bolsheviks and Stalin.
Russia has always had a rocky relationship with The West, even long before the United States rose to prominence.
One takeaway point is, to call Russia’s presidential election meddling, “an attack on America,” is not only false and hypocritical, it endangers international security. Speaking for many, even after the Muller investigation, any clarity on what Russia actually did during our 2016 election period that influenced voters to turn to Trump, is murky at best and questionable at the very least. Democrats and those who wish to see a new president in 2021 will be best served on focusing on the issues and the policies that the current president has put in place.
Some may call this article ridiculous, others, treasonous, and to them I say; When did it become okay to carelessly push for conflict between the world’s foremost nuclear powers? When did it become ok to push for not allowing a sitting US president to meet and negotiate with a Russian president? When did it become ok to neglect the other parties point of view or perspective?
One might find Trump distasteful but a world in which Russia and The US are at the brink of war, is the most distasteful event for us all.
1.) “War with Russia?” Stephen F. Cohen