When President Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin and invited him for a summit, I felt a relief almost like back in 1962 when I heard on the news that John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev had made a deal to resolve the Cuban missile crisis and avoid nuclear war.
When the gentleman invites someone for a serious business talk, especially in the search of peace, he does not start with insults, threats and sanctions, but as we see in this case he does what obviously puts the probability of this meeting in huge doubt.
So, it is too early to celebrate, and I agree with Sen. Sam Nunn, who came up with the expression “sleepwalking into nuclear a catastrophe,” when describing the state of U.S.-Russian relations. Many other foreign policy experts began using this term, and some supplemented it with the word “cyber” next to nuclear, especially after Mr. Biden directly threatened Moscow with the use of this relatively new weapon.
As for the country where World War III is likely to start, it is obviously Ukraine, whose leaders are desperately applying for the dubious prize of following the example of Serbia in the outbreak of World War I and Poland in World War II. At the same time, Kiev is trying to “wag the dog” and draw America and NATO into their dangerous game.
Ironically, one of the main actors in this looming tragedy is a Jewish comic, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine by pledging to bring peace to a country torn by civil war after the 2014 Western-backed coup. Regrettably, he is finding eager backers in Washington and Brussels. As a result, we see the merger of an unlikely partnership that includes Ukrainian ultranationalists and Western democracies led by the Biden administration.
Actually, this fraternity also happened in the past when, after the end of World War II, U.S. and Canada welcomed thousands of German Nazi war criminals and their Ukrainian collaborators to be used in the Cold War against the USSR. Another similar and more recent example was in Syria when Washington financed, armed and trained Middle Eastern terrorists, calling them “moderate” rebels.
So far, we haven’t heard a single word of condemnation or even mild criticism from Washington or Brussels of the Ukrainian-armed neo-Nazi battalions, their torch marches in the capital city of Kyiv or burning of live people in Odessa. Western democracies do not object when Ukrainian authorities praise Nazi collaborators as heroes and rename streets and sport stadiums in their honor. Nor is there condemnation when electrical and water stations in areas controlled by separatists are blown up by Ukrainian infiltrators, or even when the Ukrainian government built a dam to block water supplies to Crimea. This is despite Kyiv’s calling these territories a part of Ukraine, which means that the authorities are torturing their own people with the tacit support of the West. Some Western values.
The road map to peace was clearly outlined in the Minsk accords, which were accepted and signed by all sides of the conflict, plus leaders of Russia, Germany and France as guarantors, and approved by the U.N. Security Council. However, powerful forces, both inside and outside of Ukraine, prevented Mr. Zelenskiy’s fulfillment of his campaign promises and, moreover, managed to transform him from a master of clownish stage escapades, like playing on the piano with his genitals, into a war hawk using the anti-Russia lobby in the U.S. and European Union to get Washington and NATO to take action on Ukraine’s behalf. And they are listening, by providing plenty of military advisers and trainers, billions of dollars in military supplies and verbal assurances that the West is ready to support Kyiv all the way. One should add that it was NATO’s expansion to the East and stand by invitation to include Georgia and Ukraine in this process was the major factor in the devastating wars in these countries.
According to the Army Times, Defender Europe 2021 is one of the world’s largest military exercises, led by the U.S. and NATO. It will continue until June with 28,000 troops from 27 nations. In advance of the exercise, an entire U.S. Army division arrived in Europe. The Europe-Africa Command announced that operations will take place in the Balkans and the Black Sea region, and operations using maritime routes that bridge Europe, Asia and Africa will be practiced. No one is hiding that this operation is directed at Russia. When a Ukrainian diplomat said “The scenario is that from the Baltic sea to the Black Sea, we are practicing for, well, let’s put it directly, the war with Russia,” no one objected.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the naval deployment was openly provocative and that “American ships have absolutely nothing to do near our shores. They are testing our strength and playing on our nerves,” he said. “Seeing itself as the Queen of the Seas, the U.S. should realize that the risk of incidents is high.”
Washington keeps accusing Russia of violating the Minsk accords when it is he, Mr. Zelenskiy, who openly declares that these accords are not acceptable in their current formulations. Ruslan Khomchak, commander-in-chief of the armed forces of Ukraine, announced increases of Ukraine’s forces deployed against the Donbas, as well as in the direction of Crimea, so Russia is obviously responding by deploying its military personnel and equipment and as usual gets all the blame.
When on March 29 the Ukrainian parliament, the Supreme Rada, passed a bill removing any need for Kyiv to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk Agreements, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called the new Russian behavior “unjustified and deeply concerning”
Mr. Zelenskiy has urged NATO to speed up Ukrainian membership, but that would require the approval of all 30 members, which is presently unlikely. Nonetheless, Mr. Stoltenberg said NATO is helping Ukraine’s military with modernization, training and joint exercises.
Whether NATO is ready to use its troops in case of a direct military conflict is a big question. If it does, then World War III is inevitable, which would mean the end of our civilization as we know it.
So, almost 60 years later, Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin find themselves in the same situation as John Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev during their Caribbean crisis. Our fate depends on whether they have enough geopolitical strategic vision to follow in the steps of their predecessors.
My colleague, professor Herbert Reginbogin from the Catholic University of America, and I have sent an open letter to both Mr. Biden and Mr. Putin asking them to take a deep breath and think about their responsibility to their nations and all humankind. In this letter, we said that April 25, which is the 76th anniversary of the historical linkage of the two countries, at the time Allied nations, meeting at the Elbe River in Germany to end World War II, provides an opportunity to recall that vision of alliance and to become a watershed to rebalance U.S.-Russian relations.
During the April 15 emergency address to the nation, Mr. Biden said, “Now is the time to de-escalate. The way forward is through thoughtful dialogue and diplomatic process. The U.S. is prepared to continue constructively to move forward that process.”
Why not jump-start the U.S.-Russian dialogue by planting symbolic trees in the White House and Kremlin gardens with the respective ambassadors present as a gesture in need of a better outcome for our nations and the world?
• Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.
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