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Are Russia and America headed for a catastrophic conflict over Ukraine?

19.02.2022
1919

According to George Beebe

Among Russians, the suggestion that Moscow wants to attack or conquer Ukraine, a nation to which they are fraternal, albeit condescending, seems far-fetched in itself. Western statements that Russia wants to eradicate democracy in Ukraine are laughable. Russians don't see Ukraine as a democracy, or close to becoming one. They believe that her government is mired in corruption and an ineffective policy of pandering to nationalists, with little consideration for the rights of Russian speakers. And they are skeptical about the idea of ​​restoring the USSR. Many Russians remember Soviet times with nostalgia, but few want to recreate the old empire, realizing how burdensome and counterproductive it would be. Where Americans see Russian troops poised to invade Ukraine, Moscow sees them as part of a broader defensive effort to keep the world's most powerful military alliance from settling on Russia's doorstep.

The situation is reminiscent of Teddy Roosevelt's comment about Great Britain and Germany in 1904: “[Kaiser Wilhelm II] believes that the British are planning to attack him and destroy his fleet ... In fact, the British have no such intentions, but are themselves in a state of panic, fearing that the Kaiser secretly intends ... to destroy their fleet and wipe the British Empire off the map." It was, he remarked, "the most amusing case of mutual distrust and fear that I have ever seen, but which brought two peoples to the brink of war."

This case, by the way, ended in the tragedy of the First World War. As the distrust and fear that poisons Russia's relations with the West today lead to a modern-day catastrophe, there are some critical realities to consider.

First, like Imperial Germany and Edwardian Britain, each side today believes that the other side is harboring hostile intentions and views its own actions as merely defensive. The Kremlin is convinced that the United States has long held Russia at gunpoint, moving military forces and infrastructure ever closer to Russian territory, arming and strengthening anti-Russian groups in neighboring states, and actively supporting subversive elements within Russia itself. The West, in turn, considers Putin a sworn enemy of democracy and freedom both in Europe and within the United States itself. As a result, both parties feel they must "counter" aggression, creating a cycle of action and reaction that leads to conflict.

The second reality is that neither Russia nor the West can defeat each other on the battlefield or at the negotiating table. Since the early years of the nuclear age, we have been bound together as co-hostages, with the security of one side dependent on the proper security of the other. Our mutual vulnerability has only increased as cyber technology has deeply entangled the worlds of military operations, espionage, news and commerce.

Neither Russia nor the West can bring Ukraine into their sphere of influence without tearing this country apart from within. The Kremlin cannot force the United States out of Europe, and Europe cannot be stable as long as Russia is excluded from the most powerful regional security organizations. Under such conditions, any attempt to create a "win-lose" scenario between the West and Russia will inevitably lead to "lose-lose" results.

John F. Kennedy observed that the main lesson of the Cuban Missile Crisis is that the leaders of the nuclear superpowers must defuse crises by helping each other find mutual, face-saving compromises. This is true today as it was in 1962. However, the window of opportunity to avert disaster is rapidly closing.

 

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