Détente 2.0: Playing the long game with a rearmed Russia
We have no long-term strategy to deal with Moscow. Kissinger’s original concept of détente can help.
On 28 April the lower house of the French parliament voted through a (thankfully, non-binding) resolution to lift sanctions on Russia. Not longer ago than March, John Kerry’s visit to Moscow occasioned talk of a possible new “thaw” between the Kremlin and Washington. Even the NATO-Russia council has been revived recent weeks. These are not freak political “accidents” but simply expressions of an obvious reality: the relationship with Moscow is complex and sometimes contradictory, particularly given the growing diversity of NATO’s membership. A varying level of openness for conciliation with Russia, whether driven by political preference or interest and necessity, will always exist within the alliance. While the approaching NATO summit, with its displays of cohesion and robust language on Russia, has now placed a lid over some of these tendencies, we can expect them to resurface sooner or later.
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WNU Editor: This is my must read post for today. The author of this report .... Gabriel Elefteriu .... asked me to review his post ... and I am glad that he did. It brought back memories that I have forgotten, and a reminder on how important detente was in de-escalating West-Soviet tensions at a time when war .... and a nuclear one at that .... was a real possibility. When I started working for the Soviet Foreign Office .... I can say without any hesitation that the policy of detente was working .... and it worked because it benefited both sides. There were rough roads that needed to be passed .... and speaking on behalf of the Soviet side .... the older generation had no confidence or faith that detente would work. But there was nothing to be lost if detente was to be pursued .... and the argument was made that there was much to be gained. What I did not like personally about the policy of detente was that it cemented the status quo .... many of us in the Soviet Union wanted reform .... but detente was used by many in the Soviet establishment to make the argument that because of national security considerations and the current state of international relations .... nothing was going to change. In the end it did change .... and the best part of this story is that this change did not result in a catastrophic war that many of us feared at the time would happen. But there were rough patches during that time .... and no one knew for sure where it was all going to end.
Flash forward to today .... we live in a different world. The Soviet Union is gone, and the Russia of today is a completely different country. But some of the old historical grievances are still with us .... and it is these grievances (in Ukraine and in the Baltics to name a few) that the old Cold War rhetoric and thinking is coming back. Can this trend be stopped .... yes .... but for it to be done successfully the West will have to engage directly with Russian President Putin, and it has to be ready to sacrifice and/or back-track on some policies. Will this happen .... I am personally optimistic that a new policy of detente is workable. I know that Putin's foreign policy priority right now is (1) to get rid of sanctions, and more importantly (2) to avoid another Cold War. Detente is a good platform for this to happen .... but for it to be successful it has to be implemented now .... and it has to be done in a neutral and non-partisan way. Will this happen .... I do not know .... but eventually an understanding between the West and Russia will have to be ironed out .... so why not do it now when emotions are low and everyone is enjoying the summer. And yes .... to also do it with an altitude that this is going to be a long tern project.