Friday, September 19, 2014


"The crisis over Ukraine has all but frozen official communication between the United States and Russia. The Russian reaction to the political upheaval in Kiev — the absorption of Crimea, and the armed intervention in eastern Ukraine — and the American responses to those actions have brought about a near-complete breakdown in normal and regular dialogue between Washington and Moscow. Relations between the two capitals have descended into attempts by each side to pressure the other, tit-for-tat actions, shrill propaganda statements, and the steady diminution of engagement between the two governments and societies. Reports from the NATO summit meeting that ended in Newport, Wales, on Friday indicate that the United States and its allies will respond to Russia’s intervention and violence in Ukraine with an escalation of their own — including further sanctions, enhanced military presence in front-line states, and possibly greater support for Ukraine’s armed forces. This amounts to more of the same, with little if any assurance of better outcomes. What the Western strategy lacks is an equally vigorous diplomatic approach to ending this conflict. Diplomatic efforts should aim to provide Ukraine and its neighbors with a future that can sustain peace and security for all countries in the area; re-establish respect for the core principles of Europe’s political order; and open the way for more productive American-Russian relations. As three former United States ambassadors who served in Moscow, we believe that the time is right for American leadership in a serious diplomatic effort to achieve these ends. Each of us has seen the high price paid when relations and dialogue between Washington and Moscow break down, as in the effort to prevent Baltic independence at the end of the Soviet era, the Kosovo crisis and the insurgency in Chechnya. Each time relations broke down, there was a high cost to the cause of peace and security for both the United States and Russia, as well as their allies. Our experience convinces us that creative, disciplined, serious active diplomacy — through both official and unofficial channels — provides the one path out of destructive crises and a reliance on violence and confrontation. So-called Track 2 dialogue between nonstate actors — experts and groups of individuals on both sides — can also play a useful role. ".
Jack F. Matlock, Thomas Pickering & James Collins, "Give Diplomacy a Chance with Russia". The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 September 2014, in
"Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko urged Washington on Thursday to provide weapons to his country’s military as he received a rapturous welcome from the US Congress. In an address to both houses of Congress, Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine needed more than the non-lethal military aid that the US is giving the country in its battle with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. “Blankets, night-vision goggles are important, but one cannot win the war with blankets,” he said. The Ukrainian president received regular standing ovations for a rousing speech that emphasised Ukraine’s status as a democracy and included withering criticism of Russian intervention in the east of the country. “With just one move, the world has been thrown back in time – to a reality of territorial claims, zones of influence, criminal aggression and annexations,” he said. “The postwar international system of checks and balances was effectively ruined....” Mr Poroshenko told Congress that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March was one of the “most cynical acts of treachery in modern history”. He also warned US lawmakers that Russia’s next act might be to cross “a European border”. His comments came as it emerged that Russian president Vladimir Putin had warned Mr Poroshenko that Russian troops could be in six central and eastern European capitals within two days – including five that are capitals of Nato members – according to EU officials briefed on the conversation."
Geoff Dyer & Peter Spiegel, "Poroshenko addresses Congress to urge US to arm Ukraine". The Financial Times. 18 September 2014, in
There is a stark incongruity between the first statement above by three widely experienced American diplomats, all with years of experience in dealing with both Sovietskaya Vlast and with the Russian Federation and the address by the New Ukrainian President to the American Congress. So far, per contra to our Ambassadorial trio's statement, it has been Russia and not the Western powers who have made the running in the Ukrainian conflict. Both in commencing it, and it fueling it, and finally in escalating it most recently. Given these facts, diplomacy per se, is fruitless. One can hardily 'negotiate' when one's interlocutor is uninterested in doing so. Quite the converse in fact. Which is not to gainsay the fact that ideally, it would make a great deal of sense to prepare, if at all possible some type of 'golden parachute' or stepladder, so that Russia will not unnecessarily be humiliated by the West in some new mini-Cold War or economic version of the same. Unfortunately, as one reads in the newspapers recently, those who are coming to the fore in Moskva are the hardest of the hardliners 1. Those 'statist' (actually gangsters pur et simple) elements, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, at least temporarily from further antagonism between Russia and the West. Sad but very true. Au fond, the attitude of such elements, and for that matter, Grazhdanin Putin himself is something almost completely out of the handbook of Soviet Cold War diplomacy, as the following dispatch from that most intelligent of diplomatic commentators and observers of things Soviet, Sir Frank Roberts, makes aptly clear circa the Persian Crisis of 1946:
"It seems fairly clear that plan of Soviet Government is to extort some agreement satisfactory to themselves from the Persian Government by threat, and indeed if necessary by use of force and to delay making any reply to United States Government or His Majesty's Government until they can say that matter has been settled with a Persian Government direct. 2"
The actions of the West in resolving that crisis: a very firm and hard diplomatic line which allowed for no concessions to Moskva, were what managed to resolve peacefully that crisis 3. It is my surmise that a similar stance by the Western powers and in the particular the Americans will be necessary in order to resolve peacefully the crisis in Ukraine.
1. Courtney Weaver, Jack Farchy and Kathrin Hille, "Yevtushenkov loses favour as new Moscow order emerges". The Financial Times. 17 September 2014, in
2. Sir Frank Roberts to Foreign Office, 13 March 1946, in Documents on British Policy Overseas. Series I. Volume VII. Edited by H. J. Yasamee & K. A. Hamilton. Her Majesty's Stationary Office. (1995), p. 60.
3. My rendition of the Persian Crisis of 1946 relies upon the work of Bruce J. Kuniholm, which is what one may characterized as the 'Orthodox' version, as opposed to the more 'revisionist' interpretation of Melvin J. Leffler. For Kuniholm, see: The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East: Great Power Conflict and Diplomacy in Iran, Turkey, and Greece, (1980). For Leffler, see in particular the relevant chapters in: A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War, (1994).


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