WHEN WASHINGTON MEETS MOSCOW
Trump to meet Putin
Donald Trump is following up on his 2016 election thoughts about building friendly relations with Russia. He is scheduled to meet with Russian President Putin on 16 July 2018 (hot on the heels of his June summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un), and he has declined to rule out recognition of Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Even more than that, when asked about sanctions imposed on Russia, he said that the goal of his upcoming summit was to improve Washington/Moscow relations.
As if to prove that this Russian momentum is no mere coincidence, Russia, against all the odds, stunned the world to advance to the World Cup quarter-finals. Perhaps the stars are realigning for World Peace!
What then is the answer to the complex Ukrainian/Crimean question? As Australian author, Tony Kevin writes in Return to Moscow, there is a Western version of facts, and there is an opposed Russian counter version of the facts. Russia was angered by the West having broken an unwritten Gorbachev-Bush (Snr) agreement in 1991 that Russia would accept reunification of Germany as a NATO member if the West undertook not to expand NATO beyond East Germany towards Russia. That promise was disregarded under successive US Presidents Clinton, George W Bush and Obama, with NATO’s new Baltic member countries on Russia’s borders plus the threat of inviting Ukraine to join NATO.
For hundreds of years, Russia had been threatened by invasions from the West including attacks by Napoleon (who Russia defeated in 1812) and Germany over whom Russia eventually triumphed at terrible human cost in 1945. Perhaps it is understandable that Russia felt threatened by the encroachment into its “near abroad” – right up to its geographical boundaries, which Russia sees as part of its “buffer zone”.
Ukrainian Revolution and the Annexation of Crimea
In 2014, a Ukrainian revolution overthrew the pro-Russian Ukrainian government led by Yanukovych when he refused, under Russian pressure to move his country towards membership of the EU. Putin was enraged by what he saw as a Western backed coup against Yanukovych, and Russia moved swiftly to annex Crimea. Crimea had been part of Russian control from 1783 to 1954 when it was transferred to Ukraine by Khrushchev. Following this annexation, EU and US imposed economic sanctions on Russia, and Russia was expelled from the G8.
In his book, Has the West Lost It, author Kishore Mahbubani (a former Singaporean Ambassador to the UN) observed that the West threatened to expand NATO into Ukraine despite eminent American statesman, Kissinger and Brzezinski cautioning against this. These warnings were ignored and Putin feared that the next Ukrainian government might push Ukraine into NATO with the result that Crimea could have been used by NATO against Russia - Crimea is the base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. Putin had no choice but to take back Crimea.
Now, ahead of the July summit, Trump is suggesting that Russia be readmitted into the G7 saying “I think it would be an asset to have Russia back in --- I think the G8 would be better.”
When Henry Kissinger visited Moscow in 2016, he observed – “Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States ………” I am here to argue for the possibility of a dialogue that seeks to merge our futures rather than elaborate our conflicts.”
Perhaps Trump was listening.
It cannot conceivably be in the interests of the West to destabilise Russia. US and Russia are both great nuclear powers. China could not idly stand by. With the US “tilt” to the Asia Pacific region and its policy of “containment” of China under Obama (sounds laughable now, though not funny), a Russia-China coalition might prove irresistible.
You may not like Russia, you may hate China and perhaps you don’t trust North Korea but getting to like them in exchange for a secure peace might be a fair exchange.