How U.S.-Russia Relations Collapsed

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at his dacha outside Moscow, Russia, July 7, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Sometimes viewing a problem from a fresh perspective requires removing that problem from its historical moorings and placing it somewhere else. The first Star Trek television series (1966-1969) did just that with some success by addressing such hot button issues as income inequality and the Vietnam War, by removing these issues from their historical settings (planet earth) and placing them on other planets far and away.

Let us also change the setting of U.S.-Russia relations in order to gain a fresh understanding of how U.S.-Russia relations collapsed. A few hints are inserted in the first two paragraphs only. This is going to move fast…

 

Once upon a time there were two neighbors (hint: U.S. and Russia) that didn’t trust each other. Each had suspicions about the other. To be fair, the suspicions were not entirely unjustified since they had many years of bad blood (hint: Cold War) between them.

Then things cooled down (hint: “Perestroika,” “Glasnost,” the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of the Cold War), but the suspicions remained, festering like an infected open wound.

One day, neighbor A took action. He installed bulletproof glass windows all over his house and replaced his home’s aluminum siding with 2-inch think solid steal. Neighbor A also swapped out his home’s front door for what looked like the door to a bank vault.

Neighbor B protested to neighbor A saying that such a defensive buildup of his home scared him because it sent a strong signal of distrust. Neighbor A ignored neighbor B’s concern telling him that his home needed an upgrade and, in any case, neighbor B had nothing to worry about it.

Alarmed, neighbor B pondered what neighbor A’s actions meant. Was neighbor A planning an attack after all these years of calm? Why did neighbor A turn his home into a fortress? Surely it wasn’t a coincidence!

Neighbor B met with his sons. For their own security, they decided that they could not allow neighbor A to get the upper hand, so they began purchasing a large quantity of guns and special coated bullets that could pierce through bulletproof glass and 2-inch thick steel. They even developed a large bomb to blow up the front door if it ever came to that.

A little while later, neighbor A erected watchtowers on the edge of his property next to neighbor B. Frantic, neighbor B protested again but was ignored. Neighbor A insisted that the watchtowers were the latest in home design and it was his decision anyway so neighbor B just had to live with it.

Neighbor B completely freaked. He said to himself, “What the hell!? Does this crazy bastard want to go to war?” Again, neighbor B met with his sons. The meeting was very somber and tense. They agreed to purchase grenades and the various ingredients need to make bombs powerful enough to destroy the watchtowers in the event of war.

Some time passed and then neighbor A got another idea. Another neighbor, neighbor C, had a very beautiful house, which happened to border neighbor B’s property. What if neighbor C could be convinced to sell his house to neighbor A? “Brilliant!” he said to himself.

Unfortunately, neighbor C refused to sell. Neighbor A was devastated, but he quickly devised another plan. He poisoned neighbor C to death and seized his property.

When neighbor B learned that he was now surrounded by neighbor A, he said, “Enough is enough! If that son of a bitch wants war, we’re gonna give him war!” Neighbor B assembled his sons and launched an attack on neighbor C’s property and, after some loss of life on both sides, managed to annex a portion of it.

Neighbor A was shocked by what neighbor B did and exclaimed to the entire neighborhood, “See! Neighbor B cannot be trusted. He’s a grave menace to everyone and seeks to conquer the entire neighborhood. He has dreams of conquest and proof of that is that he is even building up a supply of guns, bullets, and bombs!”

Neighbor A repeated these lines everyday to the local news media, which leant a sympathetic ear. Neighbor A rallied the entire neighborhood to isolate neighbor B. They agreed to no longer speak with or to help neighbor B.

 

The End…for now

 

In the story above, neighbor A is, of course, the United States. After the Cold War, the U.S. repeatedly violated the most basic of diplomatic principles vis-à-vis Russia by (1) expanding NATO after the Cold War ended, by (2) forcing Russia into an arms race by placing an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Romania with plans to add another in Poland, and by (3) recognizing the new pro-Western Ukrainian government after its democratically elected pro-Russian president was overthrown in a coup.

The question Americans should be asking is not why Russia has taken a cold war-like stance against America in recent years, but why America, under presidents’ Clinton, Bush, and Obama, sabotaged the U.S.-Russia relationship following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Also, what is the root (or roots) of the anti-Russian bias that runs through both major political parties? Every American must ponder these questions before it is too late.

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