My Turn: A resolution through diplomacy

For the Monitor
Published: 2/2/2022 7:01:38 AM
Modified: 2/2/2022 7:00:07 AM

Russia feels betrayed that the United States has failed to uphold a deal made during 1990 negotiations between the U.S. and the Soviet Union over the fate of German reunification. In February 1990, James Baker, U.S. Secretary of State, assured Gorbachev that NATO would not expand east of Germany if Russia agreed to the reunification of Germany within NATO.

The reunification of Germany was accomplished promptly on October 3, 1990. Meanwhile, NATO has expanded membership eastwards repeatedly and Ukraine on its border is being furnished with modern weapons. Russia feels forced to prevent NATO’s further eastward expansion to Ukraine as a matter of self-defense.

Although this quid pro quo was never formalized as a treaty, extensive research of U.S. diplomatic files by Joshua R. Itzkowitz Shifrinson shows that informal assurances about NATO expansion east were given repeatedly to Russia during talks on German reunification throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 1990, while at the same time the United States was working to maximize its power in Eastern Europe and concluded that they could do so best by leaving open the possibility of NATO admission to other countries in Eastern Europe. Internal documents show that the United States never intended to make good on the agreement even as reassurances were given.

Shifrinson has stated that this does not justify Russia’s military buildup or aggression into disputed Eastern Ukraine. But he regards NATO’s buildup of forces as a disaster. It is a constant irritant to Russia while totally incapable of a military response.

“As a result, calls to deter Russia by reinforcing NATO’s eastern presence and leaving NATO’s door open to states including Georgia and Ukraine are likely to deepen Russian insecurity. In contrast, efforts to reassure Russia may produce a more stable U.S.-Russian relationship. Of course, Russia’s deep sense of betrayal means that the optimal moment for reassurance may have lapsed.”

Shifrinson hopes that NATO will forego further eastward expansion, reduce forces in Ukraine, try to repair relations with Russia, and admit that the Russian narrative about betrayal occurred.

The way forward —

“Just as a pledge not to expand NATO in 1990 helped end the Cold War, so too may a pledge today help resuscitate the U.S.-Russian relationship,” (Shifrinson, LA Times, 5/30/16).

Russia wants a cessation of NATO expansion and missiles of any kind in Ukraine. And never NATO membership for Ukraine. Here are steps forward:

1. Let the U.S. and NATO and Russia eliminate all sanctions related to the conflict, providing a reinforcing signal to Russia that they can de-escalate their buildup.

■Reinforcement, not punishment, is the way to change behavior.

■Punitive sanctions are against the UN Charter, a binding treaty to which all parties are signatory. The charter states that only in the case of territorial aggression (until peace can be restored) is a military response justified. Otherwise, conflicts of interest are to be resolved non-violently, by diplomacy. Only the Security Council is authorized to levy sanctions. Threats and sanctions by one member against another are forbidden.

■Finally, crippling economic sanctions may have, will have, unpredictable and destructive side effects possibly on millions of people.

2. Let NATO include Russia as a partner in ensuring the security of Europe and Russia

■The threat of Communism is no longer present.

■Agree to include Ukraine in NATO, but only after Russia agrees to join.

■Resume the Minsk talks with all parties collaborating for a “cease-fire.”

■Let the people of the Donbas and Crimea be given an option of whether to become part of Russia or Ukraine by referendum with international verification.

If formal diplomacy doesn’t work, give peaceful resolution another chance. Let citizens of Ukraine, the separatist de facto People’s Republics of Donbas and the annexed de facto Russian Republic of Crimea resolve their differences — maybe a group of young, peace-loving patriots with UN mediation. Include Greta Thunburg, in the global interest, to encourage resolution of the conflict.

The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated many times that the world cannot afford another cold war. He has suggested publicly that the U.S. budget for nuclear weapons and research could better be spent in funding climate and sustainability goals. The challenge of the 21st century is that our planet is in peril. We must unite to survive.

(Nicholas Ourusoff spent several semesters teaching in Russia and Kazakhstan beginning in 1990. He lives in New London.)

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