I was at first annoyed that even some of my long-time colleagues were endorsing Jack Matlock, the former US ambassador to Moscow. Matlock has been penning great-statesman op-ed pieces in support of RealPolitik with Russia on Ukraine.
Then, I became outraged.
It's easier when Matlock himself exposes just how awful his thinking is, in this oped piece today in the Washington Post.
He actually has the temerity to describe -- as Russia invades Ukraine -- the US as some kind of "bully" and as failing to support Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I guess he has a short memory for what really happened in the 1990s and the contribution of first the Clintons, and then the Bushes: a) telling Yeltsin not to try to Communist Party, as it would lead to "witch hunts" -- although it's the failure to try this criminal organization that has set up Russia and all its neighbours for criminality for decades to come destroying their fledgling democracies; b) dismissing Yeltsin as a drunk although in fact his administration enabled important parliamentary, legislative, media and NGO reforms which have only been reversed under Putin; c) indulging various financing and aid schemes that proved more beneficiary to Americans than Russians; d) treating the storming of the parliament as a human rights problem for Communists and fascists rather than treating the red-brown military take-over of the parliament building as a problem for the freedom of the diverse parliament itself; e) creating a gap in scholarship and understanding by decreasing funding, and leaving the field to Bukharinite revisionists like Stephen Cohen, who exaggerates the economic turmoil under Yeltsin as a problem of capitalism instead of conceding that it is the end stage of communism about which he is woefully uncritical.
To give you the idea of how poison like this actually has well-funded legs, see the re-tweet from Joshua Kucera, a writer for EurasiaNet (where I used to work for some years), who is the main "anti-Russophobe"-in-chief for Open Society Institute. Just read his pieces fuming about out-of-touch Russophobe McCain and that hot-headed Russophobe Saakashvili. He's obsessed on this topic, and it was among the many appalling signs of tacit pro-Kremlin positions at OSI which really ought to be called out much more than they ever are (people are afraid of losing grants or being vilified in one of the owned outlets of OSI.)
So here are 10 replies to the awful claims of Jack Matlock in the Washington Post -- this paragraph alone is so appalling that really, it should have many people reaching for the email of the Letters to the Editor:
Moreover, the breakup of the U.S.S.R. into 15 separate countries was not something the United States caused or wanted. We hoped that Gorbachev would forge a voluntary union of Soviet republics, minus the three Baltic countries. Bush made this clear in August 1991 when he urged the non-Russian Soviet republics to adopt the union treaty Gorbachev had proposed and warned against “suicidal nationalism.” Russians who regret the collapse of the Soviet Union should remember that it was the elected leader of Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who conspired with his Ukrainian and Belarusian counterparts to replace the U.S.S.R. with a loose and powerless “commonwealth.”
1. Matlock is fanciful in thinking that it was US policy to try to hold the USSR together, or to blame Yeltsin for the some sort of "conspiracy" to break up something that would have otherwise stayed together. The constituent republics of the USSR wanted out; they were their own centrifugal force that fled Moscow willingly because Moscow was brutal and cruel. US policy was to welcome the Newly Independent States as they were called for many years. To be sure, there were some hold-outs who were federalists and who exaggerated the problems of nationalism in non-Russian republics. Paul Goble, the veteran Russia specialist and defender of Baltic freedom, was right to point out that the last place in the world where the Soviet flag was lowered was at the US State Department.
But by and large it was accepted that these countries wanted to be free and the US welcome that freedom. Indeed, the 1994 agreement made under Clinton to have three republics give up their nuclear weapons in exchange for guarantees of their sovereignty was supposed to be something the US backed.
2. The Baltic countries were independent at one time and they themselves wanted to go into NATO to guarantee their freedom -- they didn't have freedom under Russian oppression. To characterize their entry into NATO as an aggressive NATO expansion rather than an eager NATO entry is to defy the facts of history and reality. Russia has continued to meddle with and harass these countries outrageously. Kosovo is also an area that is more ethnically homogenous than Crimea or Abkhazia, more oppressed by the Serbs without language and cultural rights, and for which there was no compelling reason to keep it under Belgrade's heel. Indeed, once Kosovo exited then Montenegro was out too and the old SFRY collapsed.
3. The help given to the colour revolutions from the US government and private foundations like Soros was not decisive, ever. Most importantly, it couldn't maintain the results of those revolutions, and a good indication of this is the events that followed, where the corrupt Soviet-style rulers came back. Neither the USG or Soros had any relevant involvement in supporting EuroMaidan, and to the extent that it succeeded without them lets us know how irrelevant outside forces really are to those who want freedom.
4. The invasion of Iraq did not get UNSC approval, but it didn't get condemnation either -- Russian effort to mount a resolution to condemn the invasion failed. And that's frankly because Sadam Hussein has flouted resolution after resolution for years of this body trying to address massive human rights violations and refusal to cooperate with arms inspectors. It's instructive to actually go back and read the resolutions and look at the votes and recall how Russia itself was up to its neck in the "oil-for-food" scandals around Iraq.
5. Maybe some find the expansion of NATO imprudent, but in fact it didn't expand and neither Georgia and Ukraine entered. The Bucharest meeting where Germany ensured that these two non-Russian former republics didn't enter, and upheld Russian interests, is one of infamy. And the entire reason there could be "talk" of this is -- again -- the Kremlin's brutality and aggressiveness, its mistreatment of its own people and its bullying of its neighbours. Russia tolerated two US bases -- one in Uzbekistan and one in Kyrgyzstan -- for years, while the US bled itself on Afghanistan -- which Russia was happy to leave to NATO to take care of to keep down unrest near its borders. Funny how we never heard any weeping about the Russian Monroe Doctrine then.
6. As part of the reset, Obama ended up not deploying radar stations to Czech Republic and anti-aircraft missiles to Poland. Yet these unilateral gestures garnered nothing from Moscow. Nothing. On the contrary, they led to cynical bullying by Russia afterward and reached the point that the Russian Joint Chief of Staff could threaten Europe with a nuclear attack. The START treaty is all well and good, but no disarmanent or peace ever really obtains until the nature of the society changes so that it has civilian control over the military. Russia does not have that. Missile inspections and removal of weapons could start under Yeltsin precisely because Yeltsin was a reformer freeing the economy, the press, civil society, and enabling a real parliament, even if he started wars with Chechnya (he stopped them, however, as well, unlike Putin, who has spread them to Dagestan.)
7. The Magnitsky Act is exactly the right thing to do when it comes to the outrageous criminality of the Putin regime, and it's what everyone from human rights advocates to business people should press for because it means the defense of the rule of law, instead of the thugs' regime that Putin has created. The Magnitsky Act didn't "single out" Russia; it recognized that if the Jackson Vanik Amendment, rightfully applied to the Soviet Union using the tool only of the emigration issue, was no longer relevant because Russia had liberalized its emigration laws, some sort of mechanism was still needed in its place to address the gross human rights violations that continue. In fact, the Magnitsky Act has been broadened to include any country where gross human rights violations are a factor.
There isn't any other G8 or even G20 country or for that matter even OSCE member (except for 4 of the Central Asia states among the 54 states) that has as many killings of civilians in anti-terrorist actions, jailing or assassination of journalists; beating or killing of migrants; harassment and harm to LGBT and minorities, as well as blanket control of the press and NGO sector. Magnitsky is exactly the right response given the massive nature of human rights regress in Russia.
8. If Russia is any kind of "loser," it's because it's made itself one - it is not attractive for partnership of any kind because of its thuggish brutality and bullying and cynical enablement of criminality -- only the most dependent like Belarus want to join the Customs Union, or Kazakhstan, which feels itself able to be a counterweight, with China's inroads into its economy -- nobody else (maybe Kyrgyzstan, but that would only be due to immense pressure). Instead, they look to the EU. Russia is a loser by encouraging mafia crime, money-laundering, cyberattacks, trafficking, drugs, and child pornography at home and abroad. The largest criminal case in US history is made up of Russian emigres and numerous criminal cases involving Russia clog criminal courts in the West, and more human rights cases than any other member clog the European Court of Human Rights for the Council of Europe. The end stage of communism is this kind of mafia-like criminality and oligarchy, and as such still must be battled by the West.
9. If Russia doesn't want a poisoned relationship, it should stop its poison, figuratively, with its thuggish bad faith in relations and destructiveness of international institutions (like the OSCE and the UN treaty bodies, which it is trying to weaken), not to mention its chronic vetos at the UN in favour of world-class war criminals like Assad, and literally, by enabling the radioactive poisoning of a defector, Litvinenko.
The annexation of Crimea and invasion or continued military pressure on mainland Ukraine should indeed trigger sanctions, and recriminations, and a revival of the Cold War. Cold is exactly what you need to be with bantam-weight thugs like Putin.
10. The fiction that we "need" Russia to help solve problems with Iran or Syria or North Korea really ought to be the easiest to debunk. Russia has done absolutely nothing to help in any of these situations; indeed it hinders increasingly and outright enables and funds and covers for the mass-murderer Assad. Whatever tiny bit Medvedev did unwillingly on Iran during the reset has long since been undone, and Putin's efficient trip to Teheran to revive talks about selling arms to Iran again during the height of the negotiations over refraining from the bombing of Syria ought to let us know starkly what this thug is all about.
Russia is the cause of a lot of what Iran and Syria do in the world because it continues to fund, back, and politically cover for these two rogue states. As for North Korea, Russia even exploited labor-camp inmates in its logging industry adjacent to NK. While China is the main enabler of NK, Russia has never put any pressure on NK over anything.
It's time to cut loose the illusion that Russia "helps" on anything other than helping itself. Bring on the new Cold War; deterrence and refusal to legitimize the oppressive Kremlin at home or abroad are the only measures that can both ensure solidarity for the native forces in Russia itself that will eventually bring about change and ensure the West survives.