Yes Houston we have a problem. It is a Russia that still has not made up its mind to be democratic, to be fair in its treatment of its citizens, to have a justice system that is honest, and to be an active part of an open global system where the key goals are peace and cooperation for the greater good.
The problem is exemplified in Russia’s self-defeating policies towards Syria, Sudan, and some other problematic states. But it is exemplified by the way it treats its own citizens, its killings of reporters who report corruption of human rights abuses, its jailing of a young punk rock group who said some critical things about President Putin in a church demonstration, and its clamp down on the semi-free media, NGOs and human right activists.
It almost seems like it wants to turn the clock back to the age of the old despotic Soviet Union. Fortunately, it is probably too late for that, but its trajectory should be of concern to the US as Russia still has thousands of nuclear weapons and a corrupt, incompetent, and hostile government that seems unable to demonstrate decency or compassion towards its own citizen or those being slaughter abroad by the Assad regime which is supplied by Russia’s weapons.
Yet at the same time, Russia, under Putin and Medvedev, has not completely turned its back on cooperation with the United States and other Western countries. Russia agreed to the New START treaty which was in both countries interest and security, it agreed to have US military supplies go through its country to Afghanistan and we have been working with Russia on the Iranian and North Korean proliferation problem. Most Russian leaders also know that their future has to be in cooperation with the West which is its largest market, and the place for new vital investment and high tech knowledge. In the end, this may be a key factor in future policy.
While there is little doubt that Russia under the “new” Putin regime is a problem, it is not a problem we can or should walk away from or create added hostility. The issue is not to create a new “cold war” as some would like, and thereby make conditions for a reasonable win-win solution almost impossible; nor is it wise to just shout at the problem and turn our back on engagement and problem solving.
But we need to think about why we have come to this point, what might be the right path to some reasonable end point in which both sides can find common ground and lessen the risks that the relationship could spin out of control or that Russia itself would become even more of an authoritarian state and its people destined to live under miserable conditions and with a cruel and indifferent dictatorship with great gaps between the rich and the poor.
This blog will return to this subject on specific issues and American options and actions over the next few months and we welcome your comments and ideas.