The Strategic Aphasia of Another American “Reset” With Russia

Part one.

The Russian “Federation” is the largest country on the planet but offers nothing (other than oil and gas) to the world, whether in terms of goods, services, human capital or innovation. Its economy is smaller than the market capitalization of only one of America’s companies, Apple. Yet single handedly, with half the population of the United States, Putin has pushed the entirety of “Western democracy” over the precipice.

Ukraine’s role in ensuring the dissolution of the USSR, its geography as the largest European country, and its surrender of the world’s third largest nuclear arsenal did not adequately jolt a somnolent West. Predictably enough, Putin used his 2014 invasion and annexation of Ukrainian territory as a fulcrum to upend the entirety of the post WWII “international order” and “global security structure” into a sinkhole.

His international predation has been dizzying:

  • adopting a nuclear first-strike option(“Yes, for the world it will be a global catastrophe, but why would we need a world without Russia?”);
  • threatening another Cuban Missile Crisis;
  • committing atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine and Syria;
  • madly increasing his bio-chemical and nuclear warfare capability, pulverizing international treaties with abandon;
  • arming and promoting international terrorism by proxy, including Hezbollah, al Qaeda and ISIS;
  • arming the Taliban and paying a bounty to kill American and allied troops in Afghanistan;
  • subverting, corrupting and co-opting media, academe, politics, and think tanks, and the lawyers, headmasters, real estate agents, yacht builders, lobbyists and investment advisors, of the still Free World;
  • laying claim to the Arctic;
  • seizing vessels and sailors on the high seas;
  • murdering 283 passengers and 15 crew members of MH-17;
  • cynically implanting intelligence agents in NATO countries under cover of purported humanitarian pandemic relief;
  • corrupting the entirety of the Western economy and financial institutions, and laundering over a trillion dollars of dirty money, including opening a bank in Hungary, a NATO and EU member, as cover for espionage;
  • providing para-military training to the Charlottesville far right;
  • posing as ISIS threatening to kill US military families or intimidating the families of NATO pilots.
  • enabling the founder of US-based militant neo-Nazi hate group to direct operations from Russia;
  • deploying nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela, as well as troops and military hardware, with Russian warships anchoring in Havana;
  • signing over 90 agreements with 73 different countries and international organizations firming its global predation and penetration of Africa and Latin America;
  • assassinating critics and by-standers in and outside Russia, organizing a coup d'etat to assassinate the sitting Prime Minister of Montenegro (“Those who drip the poison will themselves swallow it and get poisoned.”);
  • orchestrating crippling acoustic attacks against our diplomats in Havana;
  • increasing the provocative and dangerous buzzing of our ships and planes in international waters and airspace;
  • using energy coercion, agitation and exploitation of environment groups and movements as a cover to sabotage energy independence by multiple nations;

And of course Putin has hacked America itself, which is foundering without precedent.

At long last, “103 foreign policy experts” in the U.S. sign on to “It’s Time to Rethink Our Russia Policy,” published in the August 5th issue of Politico Magazine. Finally reality dawns, with a call for a “change of our current course” in dealing with Russia. After all, “we would be unwise to think that we have no choice but to stick with current policy. We must deal with Russia as it is, not as we wish it to be.” But “no.” 103 savants call for yet another blinkered “reset” with Russia, intoning the need for “cooperation,” “creating new confidence-building measures,” and “put[ting] the relationship on a more constructive path.”

Among the signatories are such luminaries as George Beebe, former CIA Director of Russia Analysis, General Charles Boyd, Deputy Commander-in-Chief, U.S. European Command 1992-96, former ambassadors and National Security Council personnel, academics. One of the marquee signatories is Fiona Hill of the Trump impeachment proceedings.

I wrote elsewhere that despite her forthright Congressional testimony, Hill has grievously and repeatedly erred in her judgment about Putin. (Among other matters, as an up and coming player in Washington’s prestigious Brookings Institution, she had been tagged by Putin to join a small coterie of Western influencers for an interview at his official residence. Hill broadcast the message in a 2004 NYTimes Op-ed, “Stop Blaming Putin and Start Helping Him.” But it’s not as if she was a knowing carrier. And that’s precisely the point.)

Whatever the moniker, “reset” with Russia is the clarion call for a group hug astride a memory hole. For good reason, the authors studiously sidestep the word “reset.” America gifted its immediately previous “reset” only months after Putin’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, with the embarrassing burlesque of Secretary of State Clinton presenting the infamous red “reset” button to Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva, in March 2009 by. Our mistranslation of that term in Russian (“overload” instead of “reset”), our inability to get even the most elemental correct, remains symptomatic of our entire mindset. It was the outsourcing of our security to Russia, masquerading as the bonhomie du jour. The reset didn’t quite work out, becoming the nuclear launch code for Putin’s predatory cortex.

Russian Troops Georgia

The reset prior to that was on the heels of Russia’s invasion and partial occupation of Moldova in 1992, and that (as in Georgia, invaded by Russia in 2008) continues to this day. With that reset, I wrote earlier this year,

“We guaranteed Russia the USSR’s seat on the UN security council, placed Russia into the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and a host of other organizations . . . Former Russian Foreign Minister Andrey Kozyrev dismisses Putin’s lament about being ‘humiliated’ – ‘these ‘humiliations’ are just myths and lies which are convenient for the Kremlin today.’

Likewise, Putin’s siren song about Russia feeling ‘surrounded,’ ‘threatened’, ‘insecure’ and ‘unloved.’ (This, from the largest country in the world, the quintessential terrorist state that laments being ‘treated like a loser’– did we hear the refrain from Nazi Germany?)”

In 1997 (before Putin), President Clinton prevailed on the G7 to accept Russia as an equal, the very year that Moscow published its updated blueprint to subvert the West. We yawned.

A generation and two previous, our resets embodied the ephemeral Spirit of Helsinki in 1975, Spirit of Glassboro in 1967, Spirit of Camp David in 1959, and the Spirit of Geneva in 1955. Each trod over the corpse of reality, rewarding aggression and guaranteeing ever more.

The original reset, of course, was U.S. diplomatic recognition of the USSR on November 16, 1933, welcoming the Great Sun to the ranks of the righteous. This was at the very moment that Moscow was starving Ukraine into submission, thereby ensuring the viability of the USSR, with all its global implications. Ukraine’s reassertion of its independence in 1991 ensured the fall of that monstrous system, its genocidal hammer & sickle symbolism applauded today as a fashion statement in the West. The 103 experts however reduce Russia’s seven-year war against Ukraine to a “crisis,” where even America’s diplomatic measures are criticized as having been overboard.

Only yesterday, we were happy to save a dollar on a frying pan from China and couldn’t have cared less about the mind-bending repression and mass murder by its Communist regime. And who cared, who even knew, about China’s persecution of its Muslim minority? Business is business, after all.

More articles by Victor Rud:

But overnight, Covid 19 proved that the faculty lounge encomiums about “opening up China” were off base. The Klieg lights of the day bedarkened the congenital disaster of Henry Kissinger’s strategic musings, and the belle epoque of "free enterprise" and "trade normalization" has lost its Ivy League patina. We evidently did not learn much from our massive transfer of capital and technology that laid the economic foundation for the USSR and then kept it on life support for two generations, all the while that Moscow was waging war against the Great Satan. It was nearly cataclysmic.

Unlike the public’s immediate identification of the pandemic with China, Russia’s invasion of our “psycho sphere,” its slaughter of our mind (as Professor Robert Conquest wrote), its wholesale disintegration of our political systems, societies, and culture, are ever “open to debate.” “There’s always the other side of the story,” we are solemnly lectured. For the uninitiated, the clear etiology that attends Covid 19 remains too amorphous and endlessly politicized when it comes to Russia, and therefore is doubly pernicious.

We remain hugely dependent on China, yet no one calls for a “reset” with Beijing, an eminently more utilitarian—though scarcely moral--choice. Indeed, Secretary of State Pompeo’s declarations are to the very contrary. What are we dependent upon when it comes to Russia?

Lavrov And Clinton Reset

Why, bizarrely, yet another reset? Mitigating the risk of war? Each reset has multiplied that risk. That should suffice to finally puncture the self-induced rapture. And why has “reset,” always, been at our instance? Why doesn’t Russia—if such can be imagined—make the overture, with contrite apology, reparations and credible good-will? No matter. Let’s just have another go at it.

Change is too long past due. There has not been a “policy” in a generation; instead, temporizing, endless reaction to Moscow’s selection of time, place and intensity. Where is the strategic acumen in America surrendering its global primacy and security after the fall of the USSR? We’ve lost our grip on reality. Our “policy” of drift is the accelerant for Putin’s scorching contempt of American guilelessness.

His marauding has therefore in fact not been unilateral. Western fecklessness, lack of political will, sophomoric “hope,” and a naïf’s naivete are his levers. Each new outrage is increasingly less shocking, and a "new normal" is a weekly event. We have become anesthetized, and Russia has been catapulted by our inability, rather refusal, to learn by experience, thereby precluding any predictive capacity. That, in turn, merely reinforces Russia’s--and by extension, China’s--certainty, and therefore contempt.

And it’s not as if this came about unannounced, or without the desperate warnings of Russia’s historic victims -- for generations.

Our goal, the goal of a Western anti-Putin coalition, must be to turn Putin inward to deal with the growing social, economic, ethnic, and regional vulnerabilities that point to the Russian "Federation's" dissolution as an imperial construct. China, Pyongyang, Teheran and other tyrants will get the message. Eo instante.

Part two of this article, "Turn Putin Inward", will appear on EUToday shortly.

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Victor Rud

Victor Rud

Victor Rud has practiced international law for 35 years, and before the fall of the Soviet Union represented, in the West, political prisoners persecuted by the KGB. He also served as Special Counsel to a member of the US Delegation to the Madrid Review Conference on Security & Cooperation in Europe ("Helsinki Accords").

His commentary has been carried, among others, by Forbes, Kyiv Post, Foreign Policy Association, Defense Report, Atlantic Council, Centre for Global Strategy, and EuromaidanPress.

Victor is Senior Advisor to Open Court, an NGO in Ukraine, and was the keynote speaker at the first L'viv Security Forum.

He is a founder and past Chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association, and currently chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs. He received his undergraduate degree in international relations from Harvard College, and his law degree from Duke University.

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