Russia has made some serious mistakes due to Vladimir Putin. He has failed his mentor Boris Yeltsin in many ways. In an interview conducted by Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes in the early 2000’s, Wallace questioned Yeltsin on the brutally harsh way the Russian press treated him. Yeltsin shook it off. He said it was an essential part of a free Russia, and assured Wallace his successor would continue that essential freedom. Well, that has not happened. Indeed, in recent years, Putin has cracked down on the freedom of the press in the same way that he has traditionally cracked down on any political opposition that dares challenge him: with ruthless efficiency. In order to garner popular support at home, he has paired such domestic clampdowns with foreign adventurism, taking back parts of Georgia and the Ukraine, while also intimidating the Baltic States and Finland. Such flexing of Russian muscles has left Western Europe, NATO and the United States uneasy, to say the least.
Although Putin is clearly in the wrong on multiple fronts, the United States has done a great job of pushing him in that direction. At the end of the Cold War, U.S. foreign policy under the direction of Reagan, Shultz, Bush 41 and James Baker made verbal assurances that American would not extend NATO towards Russia’s borders and would attempt to oversee a peaceful transition in the region. Russia took that as a sign of the beginning of a new world order and the foundation for a peaceful Russian transition from communism to a more liberal and capitalistic system. Yet that did not happen. Why?
For starters, the beginnings of what we now term neo-con foreign policy were developing in the Bush 41 circles. Why else wasn’t there a Marshall Plan for Russia, to help its transition to a stable market economy? The U.S. under Bush 41—and to a lesser extent under Clinton—began thinking it might be better for the U.S. to be the world’s sole superpower, or in other words a hegemonic global force. This was accelerated under the disastrous takeover of foreign policy by the neo-cons in the Bush 43 administration. Not only was Russia not helped economically but NATO began a major expansion eastwards. One could make a strong case for Poland being made a member due to its betrayal during World War II, but the list ends there. While most U.S. citizens likely saw this eastward encroachment by NATO as an altruistic attempt to improve the daily lives of those living in Eastern Europe, the neo-cons knew, at heart, what it really was—old fashioned power politics, pure and simple.
American neo-cons weren’t satisfied in being the first among equals; they wanted domination. Didn’t they know a nation that has constantly been invaded throughout its history would react badly? Invasions by Mongols, Tartars, Turks, and more recently Napoleon and Hitler has taught Russia that they should have a buffer zone to deter would-be invaders. Any American politician who denies that history and criticizes Putin on this issue should face reality. Boris Yeltsin would also have reacted negatively and defensively to these U.S. moves. Even the most liberal-minded and anti-Soviet thinker and leader, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, considered a Russian sphere of influence over the Ukraine, Belorussia and parts of Kazakhstan as essential to Russian security. That the neo-cons have dragged U.S. foreign policy so far to the right is truly scary.
U.S. and NATO troops are now in the Ukraine training elements of the Ukrainian Army and National Guard. These troops, and the government that leads them, are far from perfect in their own right. The real bottom line, however, is that U.S. foreign policy has to stop looking at this situation as being about “democracy and freedom”; rather, we need to practice “realistic” foreign policy with Ukraine and Russian, just as we practice it with a country like Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is a reactionary monarchy and morally despicable in many ways, yet they have been our closest Arab ally in the Middle East since the Reagan administration. This is how the U.S. needs to look at Russia.
Russia and America are in many ways natural allies, unlike the United States and Saudi Arabia. We are both ethnic melting pots, predominantly Christian, and we have both had major issues with Muslim extremists in the last twenty years. Look at the major foreign policy strides we have made together over the last few years. Syria will be free of chemical weapons and Iran will be halted in development of a nuclear weapon. Not so bad. Each of us needs to take a deep breath, step back and set up a modern summit so we can truly try to understand one another. Maybe we can resolve our differences and get back on the path we left in the mid-1990’s. It is never too late and we owe it to humanity. Neo-cons and their aggressive, bellicose thinking need to be swept once and for all into the dustbin of failure. At the same time, Putin, who purportedly enjoys his massive ill-gotten wealth while ruling with the kind of iron fist not seen since the Soviet era, needs to wake up and change his ways, or another Boris Yeltsin will come along and do it for him. What is the date for a Russian and American summit? Please make it soon.
© Chip Hodgkins
Chip Hodgkins is a graduate of Boston University's College of Communications with a B.S. in Print Journalism with emphasis on Foreign/War Coverage. He is especially proud of a paper he wrote "NATO vs the Warsaw Pact" from his Soviet Military Policy class. He is currently President and C.O.O of WBRK-AM/FM radio stations in Pittsfield Ma. He was a member of the Rotary Club of Pittsfield for 15 years. He has won the statewide Presidents Award from Gun Owners Action League. He has been a board member of the Massachusetts Broadcasters Association. In 2010 he was sworn in as a Berkshire County Deputy Sheriff under Sheriff Carmen Massimiano. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Hillcrest Educational Centers. He has covered and interviewed many famous national and international political figures. In addition to others including actors and famous sports figures.
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