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US-Russia relations need a return to reason

Published time: April 30, 2014 13:44
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (Reuters)

The second wave of US sanctions against Russian officials and the heated rhetoric exchange between the leaders of both countries, with each side blaming the other, show without a doubt that US-Russia relations have bottomed out.

It is time to abandon political posturing and introduce some rationality to the discussion. The stakes are too high to allow this confrontation between Washington and Moscow to continue, as the consequences are unpredictable.

The violent chaos spreading in Ukraine has the potential to spark a much wider conflict in Europe on a scale not seen since 1945. The expansion of NATO military hardware and personnel along Russia's borders and the threats of further devastating Western sanctions intended to cripple the Russian economy are pushing us towards a nightmare scenario that neither the US nor its European allies are prepared to face.

A certain modicum of cynicism and hypocrisy is perhaps unavoidable in foreign policy, but choosing to overlook any of the interim Kiev government's wrongdoings, and blaming every instance of violence on Russian provocateurs exceeds these limits – or, to borrow from US President Barack Obama's parlance, crosses every red line.

It is true that some opposing views occasionally penetrate the Western media's wall of anti-Russian consensus, but their numbers are as few as those of Soviet-era dissidents in a KGB-dominated state.

The recent Geneva agreement was a step in the right direction, but it has not changed the untenable situation on the ground. The real question now is who is going to put it into effect?

For example, Kiev has not followed through on its promise to disarm illegally armed militant groups – such as the nationalist Right Sector paramilitary group – which was one of the vital points of the Geneva deal. Nor does it show any inclination that it will do so any time soon.

The greatest danger here is that Ukraine is edging closer and closer toward a full-scale civil war by the day. But there is an even greater danger of the conflict escalating into a direct military confrontation between US-led NATO forces and Russia, a scenario with the most horrific consequences for both sides.

A NATO intervention in Ukraine, followed by a reciprocal move by Russia, is not a desirable outcome. Therefore, as tensions rise and the conditions in Ukraine continue to deteriorate, policymakers in Washington and Moscow need to recognize the extremely urgent need to find a means of extricating themselves from this crisis. This should be done before it transforms from a regional crisis to a full-blown international conflagration.

During a recent interview, President Vladimir Putin offered Washington an opportunity to break this futile cycle of mutual accusation and ineffectual posturing. "I think there is nothing that would hinder normalization and normal cooperation with the West. This does not depend on us, or rather not only on us. This depends on our partners," said Putin. In the same interview he welcomed the appointment of former Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg as the next NATO secretary-general.

Regardless of your opinion of Putin, since first taking office 15 years ago he has repeatedly demonstrated his willingness and ability to constructively cooperate with the US on major issues. Even today, crucial US air supplies to the NATO-backed security forces in Afghanistan are made easier by Russia, which provides secure access via its Northern Air Corridor. Both nations share the same security concerns with regard to the spread of nuclear weapons and terror threats from radical Islamists.

To be sure, it is Washington that holds practically all the keys to a peaceful resolution of the Ukrainian crisis. Not only has it helped to install the present government but, judging from the incessant visits of senior US officials to Kiev, it is they who are calling the shots.

Kiev's actions, paired with Washington's threat of additional sanctions and failure to push for a compromise by implementing the Geneva agreement, raise the fears that we are quickly moving toward a situation that both sides might end up deeply regretting.

Edward Lozansky and Martin Sieff for RT

Edward Lozansky is President of the American University in Moscow

Martin Sieff is a Senior Fellow of the American University in Moscow

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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