(The text below is a somewhat expanded version of remarks I delivered at the annual US-Russia Forum in Washington, DC, held in the Hart Senate Office Building, on March 26.)
When I spoke at this forum nine months ago, in June 2014, I warned that the Ukrainian crisis was the worst US-Russian confrontation in many decades. It had already plunged us into a new (or renewed) Cold War potentially even more perilous than its forty-year US-Soviet predecessor because the epicenter of this one was on Russia’s borders; because it lacked the stabilizing rules developed during the preceding Cold War; and because, unlike before, there was no significant opposition to it in the American political-media establishment. I also warned that we might soon be closer to actual war with Russia than we had been since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
I regret to say that today the crisis is even worse. The new Cold War has been deepened and institutionalized by transforming what began, in February last year, as essentially a Ukrainian civil war into a US/NATO-Russian proxy war; by a torrent of inflammatory misinformation out of Washington, Moscow, Kiev and Brussels; and by Western economic sanctions that are compelling Russia to retreat politically, as it did in the late 1940s, from the West. Still worse, both sides are again aggressively deploying their conventional and nuclear weapons and probing the other’s defenses in the air and at sea. Diplomacy between Washington and Moscow is being displaced by resurgent militarized thinking, while cooperative relationships nurtured over many decades, from trade, education, and science to arms control, are being shredded. And yet, despite this fateful crisis and its growing dangers, there is still no effective political opposition to the US policies that have contributed to it—not in the administration, Congress, mainstream media, think tanks, or on campuses—but instead mostly uncritical political, financial, and military boosterism for the increasingly authoritarian Kiev regime, hardly a bastion of “democracy and Western values.”
Indeed, the current best hope to avert a larger war is being assailed by political forces, especially in Washington and in US-backed Kiev, that seem to want a military showdown with Russia’s unreasonably vilified president, Vladimir Putin. In February, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande brokered in Minsk a military and political agreement with Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko that, if implemented, would end the Ukrainian civil war. Powerful enemies of the Minsk accord—again, in both Washington and Kiev—are denouncing it as appeasement of Putin while demanding that President Obama send $3 billion of weapons to Kiev. Such a step would escalate the war in Ukraine, sabotage the ceasefire and political negotiations agreed upon in Minsk, and provoke a Russian military response with unpredictable consequences. While Europe is splitting over the crisis, and with it perhaps shattering the vaunted transatlantic alliance, this recklessness in Washington is fully bipartisan, urged on by four all-but-unanimous votes in Congress. (We must therefore honor the 48 House members who voted against the most recent warfare resolution on March 23, even if their dissent is too little, too late.)