How do you solve a problem like Russia?

One good way to solve the “problem” of Russia might be to avoid making that country into a major problem every chance we get. The neocons, along with some “liberal” Democrats unfortunately, are unlikely to cease doing this any time soon and have used recent emails dumped by WikiLeaks and statements made by Donald Trump to once again launch another anti-Russia crusade.

First, on WikiLeaks: The tons of emails released show that the DNC did its best to back Clinton over Sanders. Nothing at all was surprising there. Everyone and his brother and sister already knew the deal. The controversy arose though over the source of the leaks – over the as yet unsubstantiated claims that Russia was behind them. That was compounded by Trump encouraging Russia to use its alleged hacking skills to find out what was in some of the missing Hillary Clinton emails.

Adding wood to a potential fire here is the continued propensity of Russia’s Putin to act more and more like the neocons in Washington he actually opposes. His tendency toward undemocratic behaviors, along with the scandals coming out of Russia involving the disappearance of and even the deaths of Putin opponents, don’t help his image around the world.

The United States, of course, is itself in no position to lecture Russia on the norms of acceptable international behavior. Interfering in the elections of another country, even if indeed Russia did do that by hacking into computers, is certainly not something to be condoned. It’s mild stuff though when compared to the ways in which the U.S. has interfered in the affairs of other countries using methods up to and including political assassination.

Dems indulge Russia fears

Some say we should not be concerned about Democrats opportunistically using the Russia card against Trump. Trump is so dangerous, the thinking goes, that what’s the harm in drawing on the huge reserve of fear of Russia that exists in the U.S. if it can be used to weaken him? Liberals and progressives, including MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even jumped on that bandwagon. When Trump, in a temporary and rare moment of clarity or sanity, said Putin was not going to march into the Ukraine, the MSNBC commentators could barely contain their glee as they derided him for not realizing the “invasion” had already taken place.

Despite the fun some of the MSNBC commentators had on this matter at Trump’s expense the situation is not really a laughing matter. At stake ultimately is the peace of the world. Both the U.S. and Russia have nuclear arsenals. The U.S. spends ten times as much as Russia spends on the military, so when neocons in the U.S. rattle against Russia, Putin takes it seriously. (He’d have to be as crazy as Trump not to do so.)

What disturbs me too is the willingness of some liberals and some Hillary Clinton supporters to join Republicans in backing the neocon strategy of NATO expansion and destabilization of Russia. I get uncomfortable when I hear Hillary say that she, unlike Trump, can be trusted to “stand up” to Putin.

It reminds me of the time in 2002 when some liberals, including the New York Times, bought into the claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. If you questioned those claims, you were characterized by some as supporting a dangerous dictator, Saddam Hussein, against the forces of democracy. Likewise, if you question some of the anti-Russia rhetoric now you are supporting a “homophobic,” “demagogic,” “nationalistic,” “undemocratic,” “sexist,” “dictatorial” Putin.

Demonizing Russia is no way forward

Getting on the anti-Russia bandwagon at this time could also signal the beginning of real problems for us over the next few years. Pushing for conflict with Russia is a dangerous thing.

It can reverse the already successful collaboration between the two countries. The nuclear deal with Iran (a deal Trump opposes by the way) is the result of the direct cooperation between Presidents Obama and Putin.

Putin put quite a bit of pressure on Syria on another occasion and was able, together with President Obama, to get Syrian President Assad to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile.

The neocons don’t give up that easily though. After cooperation between Obama and Putin resulted in the dismantling of Syrian chemical weapons and after Obama rejected calls to bomb Syria, they made an even bigger, bolder move in the Ukraine.

They played their hand well in the Ukraine by backing a right-wing coup against the elected pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovich.

On one side was Yanukovich who wanted to resist EU austerity demands, and on the other were his opponents who wanted closer ties with the European Union. They actually reached a deal to avoid bloodshed, but it was scuttled when neo-Nazis and other right wingers staged the coup, forcing the elected government officials to run for their lives.

Russians living in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea rose up against the right-wing regime in Kiev. Russian troops were already in Crimea as part of a military nuclear base agreement reached when the old Soviet Union broke up. The use of those troops to protect the nuclear armaments and the ethnic Russians who make up most of the Crimean population against organized attacks sponsored by the Kiev government is what the major media here characterized as an “invasion.” It’s that “invasion” that MSNBC commentators joked about, claiming that Trump didn’t know it had ever happened.

A referendum in Crimea went overwhelmingly in favor of re-unification with Russia. (Crimea had been part of the Russian Republic of the old Soviet Union until 1990.)

Many Russians in the eastern Ukraine pushed for a similar type of deal with Russia, but Putin turned them down. Instead, he lent some assistance to the Russian rebels in the eastern Ukraine. Some of those rebels went on to declare themselves autonomous republics inside the Ukraine.

One can argue about details of the above summary of the events in Ukraine, but there is no argument with the fact that Americans have heard a very different version – one of simple Russian attacks upon and invasion of Ukraine as part of some type of Russian plan to reclaim the entire old Soviet Union and then probably more of Europe. It’s an argument which, upon careful examination, does not really hold up.

It is also impossible to deny that U.S. foreign policy has long included orchestration of coups, use of drones to kill political opponents, spying on allies and enemies alike, aerial bombing campaigns – you name it. NATO has expanded its reach to the very borders of Russia and the U.S. has participated in massive war games in Poland and the Baltic states. Russian movement of troops into its own Western regions, then, comes as no surprise.

Change course, but not by following Trump

The direction we should be moving in is a very different one.

We should have both the U.S. and Russia pledge to discontinue all interference in one another’s internal affairs.

We should support a mutual pledge of “no first use” of nuclear weapons, one which the Obama administration is reportedly considering putting forward in the near future.

We should be rejecting the current U.S. Air Force plans for massive increases in U.S. nuclear capabilities.

Both countries should co-launch a new major initiative whereby the U.S., the EU, and Russia come together to solve the energy and environmental problems confronting their own countries and the world. Those are only a few suggestions, but they would make a good beginning.

One last warning: None of the concerns raised here about Democrats opportunistically playing the Russia card against Trump should be taken to mean that Trump is any kind of vehicle for cooperation with Russia. As mentioned, he has already trashed the Iran deal, which couldn’t have happened without U.S. and Russian cooperation. Trump’s only interest in Russia is how much money he can extract from it for his own benefit.

If Trump were elected, there is every reason to believe that the neocons would exploit his election to further their goals. Trump would be no peacemaker – not with Russia or with anybody else.

What is also troubling, however, is that if Democrats buy into the anti-Russia campaign now, they too may end up falling into a neocon trap in a Clinton administration. That would have dire consequences not just for world peace, but for their entire domestic program. The most progressive agenda ever put forward in the history of the Democratic Party cannot be implemented if we continue to spend untold billions on war and preparation for war.

Photo: Obama and Putin at UN headquarters.  |  Andrew Harnik/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.