Russia-West Relations: A Basis For Cautious Optimism – Analysis
I was a participant in the online October 16 US-Russia.org panel discussion “Thinking the Unthinkable: What Comes Next In the New Cold War?” What follows is a longer version of my contribution to that forum. This piece is being presented with the knowledge and approval of US-Russia.org. The views expressed are my own and don’t necessarily reflect those of US-Russia.org. — Michael Averko.
With the US mass media and body politic especially in mind, it’s no small wonder why there’s a considerable existence of arrogance and ignorance towards reasoned pro-Russian commentary. At the higher profile television/radio venues, the hypocritically faulty comments taken against Russia are frequently unchallenged. In contrast, the opposite perspective doesn’t get as much coverage and is more prone to being given a harder time by the involved television/radio host.
Moderator Gilbert Doctorow’s introductory second guessing of the thoughts taken among some American foreign policy establishment realists, partly relates to the mass media coverage. In terms of seeking as complete an accurate assessment as possible, it’s imperative to actively promote the valid and underrepresented sources, which tend to be kept out of the more high profile situations.
All things considered, the Russian government has weathered the geopolitical storm quite well. This has been done in a confident manner, which conforms with present and likely future realities.
Uphill battle and all, there are nevertheless enough influences in the (by no means monolithic) West that serve as a fairly decent counter to a significant furthering of hostility against Russia. Jackson Diehl’s October 12 Washington Post Op-Ed piece, meshes some negative inaccuracies about that country, with an acknowledgement to this observation. Moscow hasn’t been successfully isolated, because it hasn’t acted in an extremely unwarranted aggressive manner, to generate a stronger response against it.
With other options in the global economy, combined with Russia’s own ability, Russia-West trade relations aren’t the one way street as some suggest. Besides dealing with themselves, Russia and the West each have other geopolitical concerns to ponder – issues that have some convergence of interest between the two.
Practically speaking, there are limits to what Russia and the West can and can’t do. Post-Soviet Russia during Vladimir Putin’s leadership, reveals a clear understanding of this situation. On a related note, it’s ironic how some believe that the Kremlin has been pursuing a zero sum game stance.
The 2008 war in the former Georgian SSR was initiated by a brazenly armed Georgian government strike into the disputed territory of South Ossetia, where there’s a preference for Russia over Georgia. In that instance, Russia didn’t pursue “regime change” in Georgia. Georgia’s president at the time of that war is no longer in office – due to his own faults, in conjunction with the internal political dynamics in Georgia.
Prior to the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected, albeit imperfect president Viktor Yanukovych, the Russian and Ukrainian governments sought three way (Russian, EU and Ukrainian) talks on how to best develop Ukraine. In contrast, the EU and the Obama administration pursued an all or nothing approach, which disregarded the counter-Euromaidan perspective in Ukraine. Yanukovych’s overthrow contradicted the internationally brokered power sharing agreement, on how Ukraine would be governed for the remainder of this year. The coup in Kiev led to a series of enhanced anti-Russian activity, that prompted a counter-response from many in the territory of the former Ukrainian SSR.
Had a reasonable course of political action been pursued in Kiev, Crimea might very well still be a part of Ukraine. As is, Moscow has ample reason to feel well premised about Crimea’s reunification with Russia, in addition to the Kremlin’s formal recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhaz independence. Refer to the earlier move by the leading Western powers and some others to recognize Kosovo’s independence (in contradiction to UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the preference of Serbia), along with Turkey’s decades long military presence in northern Cyprus and its lone recognition of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.
For the time being, it looks like the situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk areas of eastern Ukraine could be in a prolonged frozen conflict status. The Kiev regime has been unable to have its way there. Simultaneously, there’s the probability that this part of eastern Ukraine will not achieve a formally recognized independence from Russia, or an offer to become a part of that country. Russia has good reason to not risk getting so entangled in a prolonged messy setting. At the same time, the Kremlin can’t be too passive to a nearby unstable condition, that can create increased (economic and other) problems for Russia.
Outside Donetsk and Lugansk, the rest of Ukraine remains problematical. It’s not in the interests of Russia or the West to see things in that former Soviet republic get too chaotic. Hopefully, Ukraine itself can eventually see a rise in a better political outlook – one that can successfully balance the different historical, cultural and geopolitical preferences in that former Soviet republic. Russia and the West can’t be completely blamed for the imperfections in Ukraine.
Put mildly, the Russian economy isn’t in as dire straits as Ukraine’s. I’d be no surprise to see this difference become even more evident in the coming months. In the foreseeable future, the relationship between Russia and the West will continue to have up and down trends. As time progresses, there will be added examples to review and analyze, for further guidance on how to best proceed.
When things heat up, expect the usual suspects to advocate a more confrontational approach. Notwithstanding, there’s a cautiously optimistic basis for the realists. As has been exhibited, the bully pulpit, mouthing off appearances on CNN and elsewhere have limits. The likes of John McCain and Mikheil Saakashvili haven’t completely gotten their way. The mass media feedback from Western foreign policy establishment elites, has included the view of the possibility for improved Russia-West relations, without an official Western acceptance of Crimea’s changed status, despite the understanding that the predominately pro-Russian Black Sea area territory in question isn’t likely to revert back to Ukraine.
For accuracy sake, beware of the simplistically faulty, tabloid sensationalism, relating to issues like the disputed former Moldavian SSR territory of Pridnestrovie (AKA Transnistria and closely related spellings). On such a subject, the crusading idealistic, hardline approach, typically downplays the key particulars running counter to the preferred spin. A matter like Pridnestrovie shouldn’t be a potential major flashpoint.
On the subject of hypothetical future occurrences, we’re IMHO distant from the aforementioned scenario (brought up in the introduction to this panel discussion) of a Russian military presence in Kiev. For now, there seems to be enough of a Russia-West understanding to limit the chance for that move. On a somewhat related aside, the former Supreme NATO Commander of Europe, Wesley Clark, recently came out against the idea of Ukraine joining NATO. As a frequent geopolitical commentator, Clark isn’t known for being sympathetic to pro-Russian interests.
In any event, Russia’s military entry into Kiev would face greater opposition, when compared to the more pro-Russian parts of the former Ukrainian SSR. Since the end of WW II, that city has experienced a noticeable migration of people from the not so pro-Russian areas of Galicia and Volhynia. The Kiev regime still has sway over Odessa and Kharkov, which are more pro-Russian than the Ukrainian capital.
For the purpose of not being too lengthy, I end by presenting these articles, which provide further insight to some of the points stated in this commentary:
“Pridnestrovie’s Present and Future“, Eurasia Review, January 10, 2012
“Getting Russia Right With Better Analysis“, Eurasia Review, May 24, 2013
“Russia’s Role In the World: Gauging Moscow’s Active Foreign Policy“, Global Research, December 10, 2013
“Humanitarian Intervention Undertaken In Crimea“, Eurasia Review, March 14, 2014
“Blame Game Over Ukraine and Crimea’s Status“, Eurasia Review, March 17, 2014<
“Twisted History Against Russia and Serbia“, Global Research, July 7, 2014
Michael Averko is a New York based independent foreign policy analyst and media critic.