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Monday, January 25, 2021

OPINION:

Nowadays, when something bad happens in America, the popular game in Washington is to make bets on how fast Russia and Vladimir Putin will be accused of being responsible. Therefore, it was no surprise to hear exactly that about the Jan. 6 events on Capitol Hill.

One could obviously dismiss Hillary Clinton, who apparently still suffers from 2016 sore loser’s syndrome, when she said she would “love” to look at President Trump’s phone records to see “whether he was talking to Putin the day that the insurgents invaded our Capitol.” 


However, it is no laughable matter when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, No. 3 in the U.S. political hierarchy, enthusiastically endorsed Hillary by saying that “Russia has something on Trump. There is no other explanation why he is Putin’s handmaid … and these people, unbeknownst to them, maybe, are Putin puppets. They were doing Putin’s business when they did that at the incitement of an insurrection by the president of the United States.” 

At the end of the conversation, both ladies agreed that it is the time to form a 1/6 commission to find Russia’s role in what happened that day, in their minds, to 9/11.

Add to this President Biden’s own negative rhetoric about Russia during his terms in the Senate, as vice president and even as president-elect, when he said the stories about his son Hunter’s laptop were a Russian disinformation scheme. 

This is despite a rare instance in which both the FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence said there was “no intelligence to support” this claim. 

Moreover, Mr. Putin himself said that he does not see any criminality in Hunter’s business. Some took this statement as a message to Washington that the Russian president is looking for the opening of a dialogue with the new administration, even though it’s obvious that no one in this town is interested.

Needless to say, all those who naively expected some sort of Obama-like “reset,” or at least a “rethink” leading to a discussion of how to reverse the continuous sliding — in the words of growing numbers of U.S. foreign policy experts — to nuclear catastrophe are extremely disappointed.

So far, the outlook for U.S.-Russian relations are grim, especially with Mr. Biden’s most provocative poke into the bear’s eyes: his nomination of Victoria Nuland, mother of the 2014 Maidan coup in Ukraine, for the senior position of undersecretary of state for political affairs.

In 2014, Ms. Nuland, then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, oversaw U.S. efforts to encourage a violent street insurrection in Kyiv that was far deadlier than 1/6 and to appoint members of post-coup Cabinet while using expletive rhetoric toward our European allies over their lack of enthusiasm for anti-Russia sanctions.

It’s reasonable to ask how Ms. Nuland’s return to Foggy Bottom in an even more powerful position can ameliorate the current crisis with Russia or restore U.S.-EU relations supposedly ruined by Mr. Trump.

Let’s remember that Mr. Obama made Mr. Biden a point man in Ukraine and that the results with him at the “head of the table” were dismal. Add to that Mr. Biden’s commingling of foreign policy with his family’s business in Ukraine, which even many State Department officials have criticized.

If one looks at the list of other Biden Cabinet nominations, there are hardly any folks who might encourage the president to avoid a looming disaster. 

The one exception may be former Deputy Secretary of State and former U.S. Ambassador to Russia William J. Burns, who was nominated for the post of director of the CIA.

That agency usually is not known for promoting world peace, but Mr. Burns was also a president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and, in the words of a retired clandestine services officer and former Moscow CIA station chief Daniel Hoffman, “Burns knows Russia inside out, has been immersed in Russian language, culture and history — and that will be critical to Biden.”

I recall Mr. Burns, as a keynote speaker in April 2009 during one of our U.S.-Russia forums on Capitol Hill, indicating several areas where the U.S. and Russia could work together to rebuild the bilateral relationship. Unfortunately, only two of these ideas have been implemented.

First is the New START treaty reducing and limiting strategic offensive nuclear arms.

This treaty was signed on April 8, 2010, in Prague and entered into force on Feb. 5, 2011. It is due to expire in a couple of weeks, but it looks like both countries may be moving in the right direction to extend it. This would be the correct move. A second one was Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

All other projects proposed by Mr. Burns in 2009, including the Obama-Medvedev Commission to search for mutually beneficial cooperation in many other areas, were nonstarters because of the events in Libya, Syria and, especially, Ukraine.

At the end of his speech, Mr. Burns said something that is relevant today: “While the challenges are complex and demanding, it is vital to get U.S.-Russia relations right. … It is up to the rest of us, both in and outside of government, to translate that agenda into practical results.”

Who knows — with Mr. Burns as CIA chief, might that spy outfit earn a Nobel Peace Prize? It would look great in a display case at the CIA Museum in Langley. 

Unfortunately, the museum is not open to the public but can be accessed online.

⦁ Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.


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