Interesting piece by Politico’s Michael Crowley on the dissension within the Obama administration between the Russia hawks and the President and his top advisors over Russia policy, notes Crowley “Vladimir Putin’s intervention in Syria is creating new rifts inside an exhausted and in some cases demoralized Obama national security team, where officials pushing for bolder action see the president as stubbornly unwilling to assume new risk as he nears his final year in office.”
Abkhazia is seen as a “de facto independent” quasi-state on the Black Sea, a puffer between Russia and Georgia. But what does that mean exactly? A journey into a region in the shadows of the new East-West conflict.
It appears that a significant portion of the Washington policy community is dismissing Russia’s Vladimir Putin either as merely a tactician, rather than a strategist, or as President Obama would have it, a fool who has injected his forces into a quagmire. Neither assertion reflects the reality that is Russia’s position in the Middle East today.
The Crisis in US-Russia Relations, from Ukraine to Syria:
Is Congress Overlooking its Causes and Potential Solutions?
Hosted by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., Dean of the House of Representatives
Wednesday, November 4, 2015, 2pm
Rayburn House Office Building, Room 2237
Free & Open to the Public
The Ukrainian crises represents a low in U.S.-Russian relations not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union—and the recent Russian intervention in the Syrian Civil War is only making things worse. American and Russian jets flying bombing missions in close proximity to one another raises the possibility of a military accident between two nuclear-armed powers. As the New York Times warns, the complicated and shifting landscape of alliances leaves us “edging closer to an all-out proxy war between the United States and Russia.”
The majority of Americans never lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 or the darkest decades of the Cold War—they have led lives without the looming specter of nuclear war. But the areas of conflict between our nations are growing—the conflict in Ukraine, the expansion of NATO, Russia’s involvement in Syria, and other lesser issues are driving a new wedge between the U.S. and Russia.
While most would agree that conflict between the United States and Russia benefits no one, the likelihood of such conflict, as well as the serious consequences it could bring, is not being adequately discussed on Capitol Hill. In the interest of fostering more robust debate on U.S.-Russia relations, Rep. Conyers will convene an informal hearing featuring four eminent American experts on the subject. All four are members of the Board of the recently re-founded American Committee for East-West Accord (www.eastwestaccord.com) a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose purpose is to promote public discussion and debate about the state of U.S. and Russian relations.
- Jack F. Matlock, Jr., Ambassador to the Soviet Union from 1987-1991 under President Ronald Reagan and President Bush
- John Pepper, former Chairman and CEO of The Procter & Gamble Company, and former Chairman of Disney and of the Yale Corporation;
- Ellen Mickiewicz, Professor Emeritus of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University; and
- Stephen F. Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies, History, and Politics at New York University and Princeton University
All is not well in U.S.-Russia relations. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and aggression in eastern Ukraine—and its new airstrikes in Syria—have brought the two to lows not seen since the Cold War. Presidents Obama and Putin sniping at each other from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly only accentuated that divide.
But does this incipient enmity mean that a new Cold War is inevitable?
One sentence in a news report the other day on Russia’s assertive new campaign to subdue Islamic extremists in Syria simply will not leave my mind. It was written by Michael Gordon, the State Department correspondent at the government-supervised New York Times. American officials, Gordon reported, are “confident” that Moscow will fail as it tries to return some semblance of order to what is now the world’s most tragic nation. This failure would be a good thing, we are to understand.
In our last post we described how its critical, conservative view of the Euromaidan revolution, the new government’s reaction to the so-called Russian Spring and the conduct of the Donbas War earned it the Ukrainian newspaper Vesti the deep distrust of the authorities and the moniker “Mouthpiece of the Kremlin” among many Ukrainians. Here we will describe how the paper came under pressure from both the government and “activists” (re: radicals) over the past year and a half.
According to former editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva, in April 2014 the holding was approached by figures within the new government who proposed that Vesti hand over part of its shares, free of charge, as means to avoid conflict. This was refused, and in May began a series of investigations, searches and official denunciations of Vesti by high ranking officials.
Though given in November 2014, the University of California’s Provost Emeritus and Professor of Political Science George W. Breslauer’s speech to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences remains very relevant today. Dr. Breslauer noted that while he has “never been a part of the chorus that is quick to blame the United States when something goes wrong internationally…in the case of Russia, I think we brought the current problems upon ourselves.” The video link to his speech is at the link below, and Dr. Breslauer’s written remarks can be found here: https://www.amacad.org/content/publications/pubContent.aspx?d=21687
The specter of a crackdown on free speech in Ukraine was raised this spring by the murder of opposition journalist and intellectual Oles Buzina and the arrest of Ukrainian journalist Ruslan Kotsaba, who was charged with undermining the draft. Yet a showdown between the government, radical activists and Vesti, the country’s largest opposition paper, has largely slipped by unnoticed by western commentators.
It came to a head in July of this year with the resignation of its editor-in-chief Igor Guzhva, who was likely forced out by the paper’s owner, former Yanukovich ally and oligarch-on-the-lam Aleksandr Klimenko. Strict oversight was imposed on the paper, politically sensitive material withdrawn and a focus on “affirmative topics” announced.
Eugene Rumer, a Senior Associate and Director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes “The P5+1—the U.S., Russia, France, Great Britain, China, all U.N. Security Council permanent members joined by Germany—is a unique forum where the key parties can come together to seek a way to solve the Syrian crisis. In addition to the major powers, the P5+1 format has the advantage of being able to engage Iran, a critical actor in Syria without whom no solution can be found.”