Ukraine, Another of the World’s Tails That Wag Dogs
According to CNN, US and NATO Responses on Ukraine Fail to Address Russia's Main Concerns
So says Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and he’s right, not necessarily that his concerns are valid, but that they have not been adequately addressed.
And we know what they are.
It’s not like we haven’t been paying attention. Russia has what, in my mind, is a perfectly logical complaint from their point of view—perhaps not ours, but certainly theirs. It’s all about NATO. Putin said in 2000 that he “cannot imagine my own country in isolation from Europe and what we often call the civilized world.”
That was twenty-two years ago and since then we have rebuffed Russia in every way possible, including paralyzing financial sanctions. But the longing is there, perched along the top of all of Europe, looking in. I’m reminded of an old joke: “I wrote her every day for two years and she never responded, so I broke up the correspondence.”
We ought not break this ‘correspondence’ while it still has life and hope. Russia is a power in the world and the old, foolish days of the forty-year Cold War are long behind us. War does not come slowly, as it did in the first half of the 20th century. In these times of instant communication and even quicker reflects, the flash-points are far more dangerous and a misstep by either side is more possible.
So try this on for size.
Why not stop stalking Russia with our Western defense alliance, certainly a continuing provocation. Simply invite them in to NATO membership.
Impossible, you say? They are sworn enemies of the West and communists as well. Okay, I understand that. But the how-things-used-to-be side of me questions impossibility.
First of all, these sworn enemies of the West were once our allies in the greatest war ever fought against freedom and democracy—WWII. America suffered 300,000 casualties in that war and Russia absorbed 25 million. Without the punishment they suffered, diverting, engaging and defeating Hitler’s armies, we likely would not have won that war.
Secondly, communism is just another form of government and it works as well in some ways as what we choose to call democracy. There are countries in the world that have no historic experience with democracy to build upon, Russia, Vietnam, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and China among them.
Here is yet another common misunderstanding.
We think NATO was established to protect the joining countries from outside attack. While that was an initial carrot for gaining membership, another (and perhaps more primary) reason for the organization was to keep European countries from going to war with one another. Europe, you may recall, was at war with itself for 2,000 years and, most dangerously, fought two wars of annihilation within 20 years. NATO, the Marshall Plan and the European Union were all designed to keep that from ever happening again.
NATO works internally as well as against foreign intruders. If Germany should decide once more to attack a neighbor, all members are committed by membership to respond. No more of Neville Chamberlain’s ‘peace in our times’ while a member runs rogue. Part of what infuriates Moscow is that the United States is a non-European member and Russia is European, but not a member. Twenty-five million dead and frozen out of membership. If you put yourself in Putin’s mindset for a moment, that’s a very logical complaint.
The other side of that argument (and there is always another side) is that Stalin traded off that goodwill by taking over East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Poland, creating Iron Curtain countries. That’s equally valid, but the whole thing imploded in 1989 and if you forgive Germany the Holocaust, perhaps it’s time to forgive Russia the Iron Curtain. Holding grudges is a fool’s errand.
There are other complaints you have to be Russian to understand.
When the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) fell apart in 1989, they lost control of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorussia, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kirgyzstan and Latvia, along with all the Iron Curtain countries. Those are wildly foreign names to the Western ear, but they are now independent nations and as populated with lovely women, strong men and bright children as the previously ignored Ukraine that currently sits on our political doorstep.
Meanwhile, Russia watched as NATO crept closer on its little-cat-feet to its own national border. Since 1989, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland joined (in 1999), Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia came on (in 2004), Albania and Croatia followed (in 2009), along with Montenegro (in 2017) and North Macedonia (in 2020). That’s fourteen nations, a lot of cat feet, and who wouldn’t understand a bit of Russian concern?
All of which exacerbates Russian worries over further NATO expansion into Ukraine.
A simple, productive and positive move toward both world peace and peace in Ukraine would be to finally invite Russia to join NATO. Such a move is not entirely without precedent and is actually decades old. Mikhail Gorbachev proposed it in 1990, and Putin (reportedly) proposed it to President Clinton. Apparently that was a bridge too far for Clinton. And so, what might have been didn’t happen. History is choc-a-bloc full of such moments, only identifiable in hindsight.
But the more one contemplates the impossible, the more possible it becomes.
Kissinger and Nixon went secretly to China in 1973 and set the stage for an economic collaboration that grew the relationship between two irreconcilable political entities into an economic partnership. Communist China was, at that time, far more of a threat to America than Russia is today. That doesn’t mean we love communism, but it means we’ve learned to live with it. Our long love affair with the domino theory cost us many marriages ending in divorce, much heartache and a great deal of national wealth.
If Russia were to join NATO.
It would agree to pull back from Ukraine and look for diplomatic solutions to its ongoing disputes over Crimea and the Donbas. In return NATO would pledge to defend Russia from attack by foreign powers or NATO members—and that includes the United States. Now there’s an interesting thought—the United States defending Russia from an attack by the United States.
Such a solution kills a couple birds with a single rock, as Russia agrees to settle its dispute with Ukraine peacefully and the current NATO allies will, effectively, agree to peace with Russia. That was a good enough deal for Russia that it was proposed over 30 years ago by Putin and there is reason to believe it would be even more acceptable today. Finally, it’s not even a strange thing to happen—Germany is a member of NATO and Germany damned near killed off everyone in Europe before they were defeated. Who defeated them? Russia, as an ally with the U.S. and Britain.
Would NATO feel it was coerced into a deal? Possibly. They’d be damned fools to walk away, but stranger things have happened on the lonely and bumpy road to peace.
Consider the extravagant additional benefits.
On the Russian side, Western sanctions would be relieved, Russia would be welcomed as a world power to the community of Europe (where some say it has always belonged) and economic progress might well be reignited between Russia and the European Union. Russian military support would be available to beef up NATO forces, rather than standing on the outside as a nearby threat. Nuclear weapons could be reduced on both sides, the world would breathe a bit easier and tensions would subside on both sides of what was once an iron curtain. What’s not to like in that?
For Europe, it would establish an economic and political relationship with a country that is quite likely the most diverse and rich source of timber, precious metals and undeveloped natural resources on the planet. Peace within Europe has always been subject to peaceful conditions in near-Europe, which would be substantially enhanced by a deal with Russia.
Then there is always the issue of Vladimir Putin himself.
Some feel (myself included) that, while he has his share of faults, he’s pragmatic and shows the willingness to make deals and stick to the deals he makes. We in the West haven’t seen much of that from either Stalin or those who came immediately after him. Putin is mortal and who knows the power-struggles or eventualities of his successor? Tired of the West and its refusals, Russia might take a very dark turn.
I’m thought by some to be very pro Putin and that’s not really so, but I’m fascinated by the moments in history that enabled history and how brief they often are: Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in Sarajevo, Neville Chamberlain’s “peace in our time,” the Kennedy and King assassinations, Eisenhower’s refusal to go to war over Suez and others that changed the world. I feel it somehow when times like that are near.
Putin was once told rather abruptly by NATO that it did not offer membership, that nations applied for membership. He wanted Russia to join NATO, but did not want his country to have to go through the usual application processes and stand in line “with a lot of countries that don’t matter”, according to a former secretary general of the transatlantic alliance. One can hardly blame him. He already feels Russia is losing relevance in international affairs and standing hat-in-hand before NATO is a bridge too far.
We all have our bridges too far. Sometimes the only solution is to take a deep breath, hold it and run across. So, there they are, Biden and Putin. Will they run?
Who knows, but the world holds its breath.