Some important talks are set for next week between Russian and U.S. officials. These talks will start in Geneva on Monday, followed by a NATO-Russian dialogue in Brussels on Wednesday, and will end with talks in Vienna on Thursday between Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Much hope is hinged on the success of these talks because we have reached a point of no return. Putting it more bluntly, the outcomes of these talks may decide the existential question of whether our future will be shaped by all-out war or durable peace.
If the result is war, then there is nothing left to do but pray because the chances of survival are less than negligent in the Atomic Age. One might recall President Kennedy’s observation that after a nuclear exchange, “the living would envy the dead.” Those who believe victory can be achieved by launching a nuclear first strike belong in a mental asylum.
So, you might ask, what are the chances for peace?
There are some chances, but the rhetoric in Washington’s political circles and the media indicate the odds are not good. Nevertheless, let us try to propose a few ideas that may help bolster hope a bit.
Before we do, we should review a little history.
For the past 30-plus years, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev and continuing with Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev and Mr. Putin again, the Russians have been knocking on Washington’s door asking to be accepted as a friend and ally, only to be constantly rebuffed. In exchange for voluntarily dismantling the Soviet empire, throwing communist ideology out the window, liberating the captive nations, helping America in Afghanistan and doing its share in the war on terror, Russia received the abrogation of almost all existing arms control treaties, “regime change” and “color revolutions” in neighboring countries, bombing of its ally Serbia, vicious media demonization, an avalanche of sanctions, the installation of “defensive” missiles in Eastern Europe and successive rounds of NATO expansion.
The February 2014 coup in Ukraine orchestrated by the U.S. and the EU, together with the immediate drive for Ukraine’s NATO membership, was a “red line” that no responsible Russian leaders could accept. They had no choice but to push back the same way America did after discovering Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962 or the way the U.S. would if Russia (or China) embraced the overthrow of a pro-American elected government in Mexico and sought to pull the country into a hostile alliance.
The overwhelming majority of Americans want their leaders to concentrate on national affairs rather than on policing the world. A recent YouGov survey showed that 73% of citizens agreed that the United States “should prioritize domestic issues over foreign ones,” and only 7% agreed that foreign policy should take precedence.
One would think that in a democracy, the leaders should listen to ordinary folks, but we see the opposite. This is especially clear when it comes to Congress, with its dismal 20% approval rating. It looks like members of Congress, with rare exceptions, heed not American citizens but the Swamp that has built generations of lucrative careers on East-West confrontation. For them, Russia is useful more as a foe rather than a friend to preserve their power and perks, even at the risk of fomenting nuclear war.
Donald Trump intuitively understood the advantages of having Russia on our side. While campaigning in 2016, he said: “Having a good relationship with Russia is a good thing, not a bad thing. Only ‘stupid’ people, or fools, would think that it is bad! We have enough problems around the world without yet another one. When I am President, Russia will respect us far more than they do now and both countries will, perhaps, work together to solve some of the many great and pressing problems and issues of the world!”
However, the Swamp accused Mr. Trump of being a Kremlin stooge and managed to kick him out of the White House.
I believe President Biden understands the high risks of confrontation with Russia and therefore has agreed at least to listen to its security concerns instead of dismissing them out of hand as some war hawks would like. As a result, not only Republicans but also Democrats and mainstream media propaganda mouthpieces accused him of weakness.
So, where do we go from here? What happens when the American people are being ignored, when Washington does not accept that the U.S.-led unipolar world is over and when other countries are demanding the right to have their security concerns respected?
First, it must be said that the upcoming meetings with the anti-Russia NATO and OSCE chorus are pure formalities, if not a waste of time. If Biden were serious, he would invite Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping, with their closest advisers, to Camp David and talk as long as necessary until they make mutually acceptable security arrangements.
This is most likely not going to happen, and there aren’t many options. Democracy forums, Western values that are ignored when convenient, and a world order based on rules written by Washington are not helping achieve peace. To my pleasant surprise, I learned recently from a friend who is a professor at Catholic University of America that the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are continuing back-channel dialogue to generate new ideas for resolving the crisis.
This is a good start, but why not take it further and hold a virtual summit featuring religious leaders of other denominations? Considering that the country at the center of the crisis is Ukraine, it is important to include rabbis who might help bring some sanity to Kyiv’s leadership and, if Ukraine starts implementing the Minsk accords, the crisis can be resolved in a speedy manner.
When the world is facing annihilation and politicians fail, our last hope lies with God or his earthly representatives. We’ll take it as a sign that God is listening since 2022 began with an announcement that the People’s Republic of China, the French Republic, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America consider the avoidance of war between nuclear weapon states and the reduction of strategic risks as our foremost responsibilities.
• Edward Lozansky is president of American University in Moscow.
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