The truth is out there...How U.S.-Russian relations became so dysfunctional—and dangerous
MOSCOW—The standoff between Russia and the West over Ukraine is a relatively recent development, but it is sickeningly familiar to anyone who grew up in the Cold War decades. It is, most of all, uniquely ominous: When nuclear-armed America and Russia quarrel, peace and life as we know it are threatened the world over. The risks of errors, miscalculations, unintended escalation, and culture-based misunderstandings loom large—especially when mutual trust has been shattered and little remains of a working relationship between Washington and Moscow.
Such risks are especially high right now. NATO and NATO-allied forces are conducting military exercises in western Ukraine, while Russian-backed separatists and Russian troops remain entrenched in that country’s east. Last Wednesday, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu warned that “the situation in Ukraine has escalated sharply and the presence of foreign military has increased in the immediate vicinity of our borders,” while announcing the deployment of the first of six stealth submarines to its Black Sea fleet. This came just days after Russia’s successful submarine-based test launch of a Bulava ICBM—a long-range nuclear missile designed to hit targets in the United States. Russia’s $700-billion defense buildup, scheduled to be completed in 2020, continues unabated.
Ukraine isn’t the only potential hot spot. Earlier this month, a representative of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, addressing Russian residents of Riga, the capital of NATO member Latvia, announced, in words similar to those it has used to describe the situation in Ukraine, that as a result of “neo-Nazi sentiments ... whole segments of the Russian world ... face serious problems in securing their rights and lawful interests,” and warned that Russia “will not tolerate the creeping offensive against the Russian language” underway in the Baltics. In a speech several weeks ago in the Estonian capital of Tallinn, President Obama declared that “the defense of Tallinn and Riga and Vilnius is just as important as the defense of Berlin and Paris,” and that NATO forces, including those of the United States, would defend the Baltics if they were attacked. The prospect of Russia taking measures—which could include closing its airspace to Western countries—to retaliate against the latest round of Western sanctions against it now seems like the least of our problems. (Ironically, the West’s crisis with Russia, though deepening, may all be for naught: The Kremlin has successfully pressured Ukraine into delaying a key free-trade provision in a newly ratified association agreement with the EU and offering its rebellious eastern provinces three years of self-rule.)