Russia House

editorial

2016-05-27
Kosovo: Hillary ClintonТs Legacy of Terror
The 'liberation' of Kosovo unleashed radical Islamism in Europe

By Justin Raimondo
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2016-05-27
Some Light in IraqТs Dark Tunnel

By Graham E. Fuller
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2016-05-27
West could sleepwalk into a Doomsday war with Russia - it's time to wake up

By Richard Sakwa
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2016-05-27
Beyond Cold War to Mobilization for War Against Russia?
The large-scale US-NATO amassing of military force on Russia's Western borders, NATO's "Eastern Front," is unprecedented and creates the impression of preparation for actual war.

By Stephen F. Cohen

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2016-05-25
Are Anne Applebaum and Ed Lucas Phonies or Just Innocently Insane?
Their rhetoric doesn't seem to add up and make sense

By William Dunkerley
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2016-05-25
More Game-Playing on MH-17?

By Robert Parry
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2016-05-25
Why Obama Accused Russia of Showing No Interest in Nuke Reduction
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2016-05-24
Has Russia Really Nothing to Fear From American Anti-Missile Sites in Eastern Europe?
Americans are telling their sites in Poland and Romania are of no concern to Moscow but when Kissinger (erronously) thought Soviets were building sites in Cuba Washington nearly had a stroke

By James Carden
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2016-05-24
NATO, Russia and the lost art of diplomacy

A former NATO leader says there is a real risk of war with Russia as early as 2017. Arm up or face the consequences is the advice. Whatever happened to diplomacy, asks Fiona Clark.
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2016-05-24
Intel Vets Urge Fast Report on ClintonТs Emails
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Russia House

2012-01-19

Rethink our Russian relationship

By Gary Hart

As an American with more than average interest and experience in Russia, it is a mystery to me why, unlike virtually every other country on earth, U.S. policy has tended to be so dependent on the personal relationship between the respective leaders.

This was especially true of Presidents Clinton, with the late Boris Yeltsin, and George W. Bush, with then-President Vladimir Putin ('I looked the man in the eye.'). This mystery of Russian relations is not totally confined to U.S. leaders: Remember Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's famous report to President George H.W. Bush on Mikhail Gorbachev as 'a man we can do business with.' A humorist might call it the vodka syndrome, except Clinton was never known as a drinker and, of course, the second President Bush had sworn off alcohol.

This is a cause for reflection, when the question is raised as to how the United States might go about organizing its Russian relationship if Vladimir Putin were to be driven to the sidelines by an emerging, though putative, Russian Spring. Recent weeks have witnessed virtually unprecedented (for Russia) mass rallies in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities of what journalists have described as emerging middle-class Russians.

Those of us who have a history of frequenting Russia and keeping in touch with developments there are increasingly asked about what this means, whether it will continue or go away, and who is behind it. None of these questions is authoritatively answerable, at least for the time being. Like much of the uprisings of 2011 in the Middle East and North Africa, the Russian movement includes a number of factions and profiles. Together with middle-class protesters who seem, at least for now, not to have a cohesive ideology, there are Russian nationalist and aging communists, disgruntled pensioners and groups flying the banners of disparate causes.

At a distance they seem united, for now, by an attitude toward Putin that ranges from mild distrust to outright antipathy, even hatred. And again, like the Arab Spring, no single leader or small coterie of leaders has emerged to champion the uprising and give it direction. You can't beat something with nothing, as the old saying goes. And the Arab Spring has given way to faction fighting, sectarian struggles, and citizen- versus-security-forces clashes. To be charitable, the hard work of democracy has begun : and without a Jefferson, Madison or Hamilton among them.

Those Russophiles among us, driven much less by dreamy nostalgia for Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky than by the certain realization that the United States and Russia have many more interests in common than we have differences, choose to believe that the incipient movement toward democracy embraces demands for multiple party elections; media freedom including protection from violence of reporters who uncover corruption; transparency in government operations; an end to cronyism; an independent and honest judicial system; and many of the other basic qualities and institutions normally characterizing democratic societies.

Even during the worst Cold War days, and certainly during the Gorbachev era of glasnost and perestroika, everyday Russians would tell Westerners: 'We simply want an ordinary life; we want to live like everyone else.' That could be this movement's anthem.

But if the Russophobes among us could let up for a time (and there are more of those in foreign policy circles than we would like to imagine), we might have a chance to institute a far-reaching bilateral policy emphasizing our mutual interests, minimizing our differences and seeking Russian support where it would be welcome and meaningful. That includes dealing with Iran and its nuclear potential; quarantining North Korea; managing the five Muslim republics on Russia's southern border; isolating and crushing terrorism; countering proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; stabilizing world energy distribution systems; and a host of similarly important problems.

This agenda, including lending moral support for the nominally democratic movement in the Russian streets, should operate regardless of whether Vladimir Putin is reelected Russia's president. Great powers, it has been said even before the arch-realist Henry Kissinger came along, do not have permanent friendships - they have permanent interests. In the great scheme of things, it matters less how Barack Obama (or for that matter, even Newt Gingrich) gets along with Putin or his successor and much more on whether we can identify and pursue, over several successive American administrations, those real and important permanent and mutual interests.

It is manifestly in the interest of the United States to do so. Years from now it will finally come to our understanding that our relationship with Russia is one of our most important.

Hart is president of Hart International, Ltd. and chairman of the American Security Project. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1975 until 1987.