Lessons to learn from Foreign Policy malpractice...

The backstory to Russia’s possible deeper assault into Ukraine is that we still haven’t given a thought to how thirty years ago we empowered Russia and elevated its international stature. Concurrently, NATO all but disarmed itself, writes Victor Rud.

It bares the lie that “Western aggression” birthed Putin’s ultimatum that America and Europe outsource their security to the Kremlin. Add to that our self-dealt guilt card about Putin suffering “trauma”, “humiliation” and “lost pride.”

We should also ponder how for decades we waved him off as the self-declared, celebratory legatee of a terrorist state, not just state sponsor of terrorism, domestically and internationally. Normally what are inconsistent and even opposite traits—our failure of will, credulousness and refusal to believe—coalesced to steadily, predictably, propel his contempt and excise risk from his calculus.

Days after Putin’s diktat, one of Russia’s top propagandists, Dmitry Kiselyov, was clear: “You, over there in the U.S., NATO and the EU, decide for yourself: Is Russia making an offer that can be refused? Our hypersonic weapons are guaranteed to produce a response that is so unpleasant for America to hear: being reduced to radioactive ash.” The possibility of a pre-emptive strike issued from, among others, Deputy Defense Minister Andrei Kartapolov, while Svobodnaya Pressa wrote of “burying all of Europe and two -thirds of the United States in 30 minutes.”

Let’s not feign surprise.

“Regenerating Russia as the superpower successor to the Soviet Union will be a threat to the security of Ukraine and Europe. The consequences of an authoritarian Russia could be avoided by facilitating the development of a strong and stable Ukraine to act as a balance to Russian power in Eastern Europe. The willingness to allow Russia to become the sole nuclear and economic power to emerge from the Soviet Union is a dangerous prospect for Western security. The United States will have assisted in creating a regime that is a serious threat to the democratic community of states.” So warned a U.S. Naval Post-Graduate study . . . in 1993!

Given that the dissolution of the USSR pulled civilization from the brink, you would have thought that we would have sought by all means to keep it that way.

To that end, logic required that we spare no effort to forestall a recidivist, predatory Russia. The path would have been to ensure the viability of the former Soviet “republics,” previously occupied by Russia, as independent, democratic states. That was why the USSR, a multi-national state, dissolved and why we “won the Cold War.” (At bottom the Soviet Union was a rebranded Tsarist Empire, and today’s arguments about Putin seeking to revive the USSR vs. that Empire are moot.)

Ukraine was the keystone, the renewal of its independence setting the tombstone for that empire. A bolstered “Marshall Plan” to ensure that it was not again occupied or suborned by Moscow would have been the cheapest and most certain warranty against a Russia intent on burying the Great Satan. Instead, Ukraine’s “security concerns” and “historic grievances” against Russia were waved aside, and we compelled the victim to surrender its nuclear arsenal to its persecutor. Is it imaginable that after WWII we would have so resurrected an unrepentant Germany instead of its victimized nations?

The need for a bulwark against a militarized, aggressive Russia hugely surpassed the imperatives driving the original Marshall Plan. Unlike shattered Germany, Russia’s industrial base and military capability remained intact; with that, the specter of a conflagration that would eclipse WWII. More critically, unlike Germany, Russia refused to come to grips with its past. There was no purgation, no Nuremberg Trials, no cleansing of mind or soul, no atonement (forget about reparations). Instead, Moscow deified its bloody legacy.

Thirty years ago, we instead rolled the dice on the strength of what, exactly? “We hoped that Russia would change?”

The “hope” was hopelessly bereft of history other than a history that mocks it. Where were the facts, the analysis, the precedent? There were none. Nothing even hinted at an analogous reprise of America’s commitment after WWII to suppress the rise of a remilitarized, aggressive Germany. Just a declaration in 1992, that all was forgiven. It was foreign policy malpractice.

We never absorbed the nature of the Soviet regime, oblivious that Lubyanka’s residents are the Darwinian elite. We seriously expected that the millions of military personnel and operatives and agents and informants and sycophants and assassins and other nomenklatura were going to prostrate themselves, morph into good Rotarians because . . . well, simply because. Overnight, no less. What was to become of the secret cities with secret laboratories where secret people continued to add to a secret chemical/biological arsenal that would make nuclear afterglow salvific by comparison?

What did Russia’s invasion of Moldova in 1990-92 portend? What about the savaging of Chechnya, before and notably after the Russian Federation signed the U.N registered 1997 peace treaty with that nation – “To develop their relations on generally recognized principles and norms of international law?”

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President Clinton’s comparison of Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln trying to preserve a secessionist South was mindbending. This was eleven years before Russia’s invasion and dismemberment of Georgia.

Instead, we bestowed prestige and legitimacy to the unrepentant legatee of a netherworld. We championed Russia’s integration into the “rules-based international order,” including the World Bank, IMF and the G8, and ensured its seat on the UN Security Council, facilitating its shattering of that very order. It was the easy way out.

It’s not that we “didn’t know.” We were self-anesthetizing.

Putin’s celebration of Stalin’s birthday, his rehabilitation of Stalin’s executioners and his reintroduction of Soviet symbolism didn’t merit even a raised eyebrow. To the contrary, we led the encomiums. President Clinton: “I think we can do a lot of good with him. His intentions are generally honorable and straightforward. [He is] fully capable of . . . preserving freedom and pluralism and rule of law.” Adding to Putin’s eyes and soul, President Bush judged that Putin was building a Russia “at peace within its borders, with its neighbors, a country in which democracy and freedom and rule of law thrive.” Not to be outdone, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s joined: “President Putin’s leadership offers hope to Russia and the whole world.”

Putin was not a no-name-from-the-nowhere-backwater of Dresden, East Germany. There is more than enough to conclude that in Dresden, Putin maintained direct connection with the terror networks established by his mentor KGB head Yurij Andropov who saw the Islamic world “as a petri dish in which Moscow could nurture a virulent strain of America-hatred.” Earlier, in the 1970’s, Ion Pacepa, head of Romanian foreign intelligence, visited General Alexander Sakharovsky, head of the KGB’s First Chief Directorate (foreign operations). He told Pacepa, “Terrorism has to become our main weapon.” Pointing to a world map bristling with red pins, each a hijacked airplane, Sakharovsky continued: “Airplane hijacking is my own invention.”

In 1987, at the time of Putin’s posting to Dresden, GRU defector Vladimir Rezun (“Viktor Suvorov”), laid out a scenario– two successive plane crashes into the White House, the second one to kill the first responders and command structure arriving on the scene of the first. Before becoming Osama bin-Laden’s lieutenant and 9/11 architect, in 1996-97 Ayman al-Zawahiri was trained by the KGB in Russia-controlled Dagestan in the Caucasus. Putin is enamored of anniversary dates. Coincidence or not, 9/11 was the birthday of Felix Dzerzhinksy, the sadistic founder of the Cheka, the predecessor of the GPU/NKVD/KGB/FSB/GRU.

Promptly after President Bush’s declaration of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the “axis of evil,” Putin reinstituted weapons sales and nuclear assistance to Iran. Iraq received a $40 billion trade deal. And North Korea’s despot, Kim Jung II, was celebrated in Moscow. In 2003, Putin declared at the conference of the Organization of the Islamic Conference that Russia was Islam’s historical defender, and Russia received associate status. When Putin bemoaned the disintegration of the USSR... we yawned!

Imagine a former Gestapo officer presiding over a resurgent Germany who glorifies Hitler and its Nazi past, and invades Denmark, Holland and Czechia as “threats” to its security. How would we have reacted upon the very first invasion? With Pavlovian default for “stability,” “reducing tensions” and “dialogue?” Little wonder we have been outplayed, outsmarted and outmaneuvered in Europe, the Middle East, Venezuela, Africa, the Arctic and at home.

In December 2004, on the eve of her Senate confirmation hearings as Secretary of State, I wrote to Condoleezza Rice warning about Putin targeting Ukraine. How we dealt with that would

“increase or reduce the likelihood that the U.S. will be simultaneously confronted by both a resurgent, reconstituted "Russia" and Islamic terrorism. More fantastic scenarios can be imagined than a reversion to an even more dangerous Russia. It had already occurred once, in 1917. In your confirmation hearings, you may be asked what must be done to ensure that, like Nazi Germany, Russia in the future never again becomes a threat to world peace and America's security. You can respond with Lenin's lament: "If we lose Ukraine, we lose our head." Ensuring that loss for Lenin's progeny will be the redemption.”

Ten years afterward, I warned that unless we radically changed our approach to dealing with Russia, within several years we would be confronted by a reprise of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. Four years later, in 2019, Putin announced that he’s ready for it. Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov didn’t exclude installing “military infrastructure” in Cuba or Venezuela. This was on the heels of Vladislav Surkov, Russia’s chief ideologist, having declared that “For Russia, constant expansion is not just one of the ideas, but the true existential of our historical existence.”

The 1993 Naval Study had it right - “The threat of a third World War and the potential for nuclear holocaust seems to have slipped from the West's collective consciousness. Were Russia to embark on a campaign to reconstitute, what options would the West have? Ukraine provides the United States with a potential regional counterweight to Russian territorial expansion . . . .”

Three decades should have been long enough to learn.

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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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