Stop making Russia the enemy

Letters / Opinions

Subhuti’s Open Letter to President-elect Donald Trump.

Trump and Puting pointing

Dear Mr Trump,

Your unexpected victory in the US election opens a door, which, if Hillary Clinton had won, would have remained closed. Mrs Clinton was well known for adopting a hard line towards the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, and there was little hope of friendship between the two countries.

Now there is a real possibility that America and Russia can be friends, or at least cooperate in a meaningful way. This is a crucial area of US foreign policy where you can make a big difference to world stability and peace.

May I remind you that for 70 years Russia was seen by all of us in Western countries as the “evil empire” because of communism. Then, in 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev obligingly, if accidentally, dismantled the Soviet Union and the entire communist bloc swiftly evaporated as countries reclaimed their national independence.

For one moment, for one long, long moment, it looked like all of us – the United States, the European community and Russia – could get along just fine, sharing democratic attitudes and a free market economy.

Alas, it didn’t last, this golden opportunity vanished and, as far as I can see, it was us, in the West, who were largely to blame for the deterioration in the relationship.

Just think of it: for 70 years we had an enemy, then the enemy voluntarily abandoned the ideology that was causing the problem, and then, within 2-3 decades, we have again created the same enemy!

What brilliant diplomacy by our genius Western politicians!

I’m not saying that Russia didn’t contribute to the problem. The chaotic nature of the transition from communism to democracy, the Mafia wars of the late 90s, the looting of the economy by Russian oligarchs and the centralisation of power by Vladimir Putin…It didn’t make things easy for us.

But with just a little more skill we could have done a lot better.

Fundamentally, what has been missing is respect for a superpower.

Did it really make sense to welcome all the Eastern European countries into the European Union while shutting Russia out? Can you imagine what would have happened if something similar had been done to the United States?

Suppose, for example, all the world’s free markets got together and prevented Uncle Sam from doing business with them. Can you imagine the reaction in Washington DC? Congress and the White House would go ballistic – quite literally.

The way we handled the issue of NATO membership wasn’t any better. Did it really make sense to grant membership to all those Eastern European countries, which had formerly been part of the Warsaw Pact collective defence treaty with Russia, while keeping Russia itself out?

Did we expect the Russians to stand idly by, or even applaud, as the NATO alliance crept right up to its national borders? Were they supposed to cheer while the US erected a new missile system, on Russia’s own doorstep, in neighbouring Romania and Poland?

“Oh but these missiles aren’t against you, they’re against Iran,” the Pentagon war machine told the Kremlin. Sure. That’s like Putin placing missiles in Mexico and saying they’re not against America – not exactly a friendly gesture.

“We don’t want to isolate Russia,” stated Condoleezza Rice, in a speech to NATO in 2008, when she was US Secretary of State for President George W. Bush.

To which I wanted to reply, “Hey, if you don’t want to isolate Russia, then it’s very simple: stop isolating Russia!” But no one else, it seems, has been capable of grasping this elementary diplomatic point.

We all have PhD’s in hindsight, as they say, but if the USA, the UK and the EU had focused on creating a harmonious relationship with Russia first, then opened up to the rest of Eastern Europe, we would all be a lot better off.

The Ukraine, particularly, would have benefited. It would still possess the Crimea and those Eastern regions of its territory now occupied by Russia.

Now let’s take a look at Syria, which is another flashpoint between America and Russia.

Revolutions are okay when they happen quickly – when they succeed or fail within a short time. So the revolt against President Assad would not have been a problem for most Syrians if the outcome had been decided, one way or the other, within days or weeks.

But now, after dragging on for five years and creating 4.8 million refugees, it has become a disaster of epic proportions. And it’s a fair bet that most Syrians don’t give a damn who wins as long as the fighting stops and something like normal life can return.
If you, Mr Trump, can get together with Vladimir Putin and defuse this flashpoint, that will be a blessing to everyone, especially for the Syrians – and also for those European countries that have to cope with the flood of refugees crossing their borders.
It would be a bitter pill to swallow, but if America pulled out from supporting the revolutionaries and threw its weight behind Putin and Assad, the conflict would be over in weeks.

Maybe that’s too big a climb-down for the American ego, but it would be the greatest possible service to the ordinary human beings caught up in this endless war.

Yes, I know Putin and Assad have been accused of war crimes in Syria, but what about the crime of perpetuating an unwinnable war at huge expense and enormous suffering? From this perspective, the USA and its allies, including France and the UK, share equal responsibility with Russia.

I have visited Russia several times in the past few years and most of my friends there are musicians, meditators and liberal intellectuals, and so, of course, they don’t like Putin. But they all acknowledge that the Russian leader is immensely popular with ordinary people.

When I ask why, the answer is clear: “Because Putin is strong man who stands up to the West.”

Which begs an important question: why would the Russian people feel the need for a strong leader who stands up to the West?

This answer is also clear: because they feel the West doesn’t like them, doesn’t respect them and is hostile towards their country.

Frankly, I don’t blame the Russian people for this attitude. I feel Russia has been dealt a bad hand by the Western powers. If we want peace and security in Europe – and, indeed, in the world — this needs to change.

Mr Trump, I have no idea if you are going to make a good president of the United States. But there is one area where you can make a big difference and I can sum it up in a nutshell:

Stop making Russia the enemy.

There is no reason for it. There is no need for it. There is nothing to gain in perpetuating it.

No one will pretend that Mr Putin is a nice guy. But then, neither are you. Together, maybe, you can do something for everyone and show the world how two tough guys can be friends.

This is a slightly edited version of the article published this morning

SubhutiSubhuti is a regular contributor

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