Can America’s Leaders Find an Accommodation With Russia?
U.S. and Soviet troops Meet at the Elbe River
I am afraid the answer is a resounding, “No!” I hope and pray that I am wrong on this point, but I see no evidence that such a shift in opinion towards Putin and all things Russian is in the offing. The United States and Soviet troops shook hands over the waters of the Elbe River on April 25, 1945. That water is now poisoned. The following scene from the HBO series, The Pacific, illustrates the problem with poisoned water.
A recent Gallup poll reveals the depth of the negative feeling:
Americans’ already-negative opinions of Russia have soured further in the past year, dropping from 15% holding a favorable view to 9%. The current reading for Russia is the lowest Gallup has measured since it first asked about the “Soviet Union” in this format in 1989.
Russia is now the fourth country in Gallup’s polling of country favorable ratings to register a sub-10% favorable score. Iran, Iraq and North Korea have had ratings below 10% on multiple occasions. The all-time low favorable rating for any country was 3% for Iraq in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War.
At the very time that lines of diplomatic communication need to be open and active between Washington and Moscow, the sustained propaganda campaign portraying Russia as a communist, authoritarian state keen on re-creating the Soviet Empire makes it politically impossible for any U.S. political leader to say or do anything conciliatory towards Russia. This is both incredibly dangerous and stupid.
I do not recall any time during the span of the Cold War (1947 – 1991) that relations between Washington and Moscow were so strained. During the Vietnam War it was Russia, not China, that provided the bulk of military aid to North Vietnam:
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Moscow had employed a hands-off policy towards the conflict in Southeast Asia. Premier Nikita Khrushchev, for instance, wanted to avoid yet another nuclear standoff as had happened in 1962 in Cuba. But his successors Alexey Kosygin and Leonid Brezhnev wanted to please the hardliners in the Soviet military and consequently ramped up military aid.
By the spring of 1967, a river of aid was flowing from Russia into North Vietnam.
By the late 1960s more than three-quarters of the military and technical equipment received by North Vietnam was coming from Moscow. Sergei Blagov writes in Asia Times that Moscow contributed weapons essential to North Vietnamese defence capabilities against the American air war, including radar systems, anti-aircraft artillery, surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). “Without this materiel, Vietnamese air defence would have been hardly feasible,” he says.
Russia military supplies completely transformed the nature of the war. Unlike what they show you in Hollywood movies, the Vietnamese did not fight with just cunning and camouflage, they hit the Americans with firepower on a staggering scale. Their arsenal included 2,000 tanks, 7,000 artillery guns, over 5,000 anti-aircraft guns and 158 surface-to-air rocket launchers.
The new weapons – although not the latest in Moscow’s arsenal – were more advanced than the American ones, leading to many battlefield routs of US military forces. American aircraft ran into skies streaking with SAMs and thick with ack-ack salvoes.
Even though the Soviets were indirectly responsible for America’s casualties in that god-forsaken war, Presidents Johnson and Nixon and their national security teams continued to keep the channels of communication and diplomacy open between Washington and Moscow. Those exchanges produced the 1972 landmark agreements — Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), and the U.S.–Soviet Incidents at Sea agreement.
Although the United States was still engaged in Vietnam and realized it was losing, that did not prevent diplomats from both sides working cooperatively to de-escalate tensions and reduce the risk of nuclear war.
American attitudes are hardening and a Russian victory in Ukraine is likely to widen the gulf between America and Russia. Today’s news is ominous. President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia was going to place tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus in response to British promises to supply Depleted Uranium shells to Ukraine. It does not matter whether those shells actually pose a radioactive threat to Russia. Russia perceives it as such and is reacting accordingly.
For its part, the United States decided to poke the Russians in the eye by announcing its intent to meddle in the internal affairs of Belarus, a Russian ally:
The United States is considering the possibility of appointing a special representative for Belarus, who will interact with the opposition [Belarusian opposition],” said Anthony Blinken.
The U.S. hypocrisy is staggering. U.S. politicians and media analysts continue to scream bloody murder about Russian interference in U.S. elections and their feeble efforts to use social media to sway political opinion. Yet, without a sense of irony or shame, the U.S. openly talks about getting rid of the President of Belarus. It is this kind of duplicity that has brought Russia and China together in a historic union.
As long as the United States continues to pursue policies and make public statements that Russia perceives as an existential threat to its nation and people, a war between the United States and Russia appears more likely. I really hope that I am wrong.
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