*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.
Americanist Edward Lozansky on why relations between the Russian Federation and the U.S. have deteriorated to their current state.
Since the late 1980s, Moscow has repeatedly sought to create a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship with Washington. But on the other side of the Atlantic, Washington has preferred to continue to pursue its policy of weakening Russia, taking every opportunity to drive it into a state of geopolitical oblivion. As for Ukraine, it had to be turned into a strategic anti-Russian foothold, contrary to its own national interests. To that end, the U.S. allocated enormous resources and organized two “color revolutions,” in 2004 and 2014, the latter of which led to the coup d’état that gave rise to the current crisis.
The U.S. has already poured more than $100 billion into Ukraine. The money goes to arming Ukraine with increasingly destructive weapons and propping up its economy. For all practical purposes, it is the Pentagon that directs the Ukrainian army’s military operations, supplies its intelligence and trains its soldiers and officers. From Washington’s point of view, this is a relatively inexpensive way of achieving America’s goals, particularly since the loss of life, unlike in other U.S. conflicts, is Ukrainian, not American. Canada and Europe (with limited exceptions) fall in line with U.S. policy, often to the detriment of their own national interests.
Politicians justify the expense to their citizens by arguing that Ukraine is fighting not only for its own sovereignty but also for freedom and democracy throughout the West. If Russia defeats Ukraine, the argument goes, Vladimir Putin will push onward to conquer other territories. It is a cynical lie, but it pervades political rhetoric and practically all mass media. This is how the interests of American and European citizens are sacrificed to behind-the-scenes political intrigue and the appetites of the military-industrial complex.
Clearly, we must find a way out of this critical situation. To do that, it is essential to understand recent history, including those moments that could have brought U.S.-Russia relations to an era of mutually beneficial cooperation.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were many politicians, businessmen, scientists and cultural figures in the U.S., Europe, and the USSR (and subsequently Russia) striving to work out definite plans to ensure cooperation between the East and the West. They held informal negotiations with leading figures in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations as well as those of Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. But when Bush was defeated in 1992, Bill Clinton’s rise to power brought forces to the forefront with opposing interests.
As a result, in the 1990s, instead of cooperation, the world witnessed what some observers have colorfully characterized as “a bloody Russia swimming with sharks.” The shock therapy policy pursued by the Clinton administration, the International Monetary Fund and the city of London led to the collapse of the Russian economy and disastrous consequences for the Russian government and its people. In addition, then-Secretary of State James Baker’s promises not to expand NATO “one inch to the east” of its 1992 borders were abandoned, ending Russia’s main guarantee of security. Instead, the North Atlantic Alliance, formerly a Cold War defensive bloc, turned into a new offensive structure designed to ensure global hegemony for the U.S.
Nevertheless, in 2000, the rise to power of two youthful leaders, George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin, gave new hope to many who favored improving U.S.-Russian relations. In November 2001, Bush repeatedly called Putin an excellent partner to successfully meet the challenges facing the two countries and the rest of the world. Putin responded that Russia was ready to work together as closely as America desires. More than 100 members of Congress and dozens of public organizations supported Republican Rep. Curt Weldon’s plan for a U.S.-Russian partnership entitled “A New Time, A New Beginning.”
The Weldon plan introduced a vision for a different paradigm of cooperation, affecting almost all aspects of relations between the two countries. Culture, science, education, agriculture, energy, space, defense, planetary defense and fusion research were all discussed in detail in the Weldon plan. “America and Russia must forge an alliance that benefits both or face the near certainty that historical suspicions will reemerge and plunge the world into a new Cold War. Such a turn of events would be especially tragic,” the plan emphasizes.**
Unfortunately, Bush quickly changed course under the influence of powerful forces supporting the previous administration’s agenda. The second chance to develop mutually beneficial relations between Russia and the U.S. ended with the invasion of Iraq, withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, support for the “color revolutions” in post-Soviet territories, and efforts to bring Georgia and Ukraine into NATO.
The third opportunity arose in 2016 with the victory of Donald Trump, who intended to improve relations with Russia and put a stop to the “endless American wars.”** But throughout his presidency, Trump came under unprecedented attacks. He was constantly accused of being a “puppet of the Kremlin,” leading to two impeachments by the House of Representatives — he was acquitted by the Senate — and undermining his prospects in the 2020 election. By that time, Ukraine was already ablaze as a result of the February 2014 coup d’état, which came about under the direction of Joe Biden and Victoria Nuland.
And now the responsibility for the approaching apocalypse lies with Biden, who can barely manage to orient himself in time and space, and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the former comedian to whom the Ukrainian people have entrusted their fate and given a mandate to bring about peace. According to atomic scientists, the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock are approaching midnight. The number of Americans — including politicians — who appreciate the danger of the current situation is growing. Unfortunately, those voices are not strong enough change the course of the White House. It comes to pass that the historic mission of saving humanity from impending catastrophe has fallen to Russia.
Edward Lozansky is a political scientist and president of the American University in Moscow.
**Editor’s Note: These quotations, though accurately translate, could not be independently verified.