Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.Former Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., takes his seat for the Senate Finance Committee hearing on "Getting to Yes on Tax Reform: What Lessons Can Congress Learn from the Tax Reform Act of 1986?" on Tuesday, Feb. 10, 2015.
Bill Bradley is a former U.S. senator.

Improving U.S.- Russia relations starts with Ukraine

In Ukraine, lives continue to be lost, families are split, property is destroyed, the economy is decimated, ethnic divisions proliferate, and political unity remains non-existent. The human tragedy grows every day. The U.S., Europe, and Russia seem deadlocked, unable to understand the other’s point of view.
Ukraine inflamed tensions recently by giving Ukrainian citizenship to Mikheil Saakashvili [JB note: The ideal "Western-style" reformer?], the former President of Georgia, and then appointing him governor of the Odessa province. The chance for wider war lurks in the background with all that would mean for the Ukrainian people, Europe, and the U.S.-Russian relationship. As with many international events, the Ukrainian crisis has occurred in a broader historical context.
At the end of the Cold War, the prevailing view in Washington was that the U.S. was strong, and Russia was weak and did not count in a unipolar world. We disregarded Russia’s opposition to NATO expansion, the Iraq War, and the U.S.-led military intervention in Serbia for the independence of Kosovo. We went back on our assurances to Russia that the air war on Libya was limited to saving civilian lives and did not include regime change. We withdrew from the ABM Treaty and even suggested that Ukraine and Georgia join NATO.
With each rejection, Russia’s resentment grew. Confronted by the West’s support for the pro-Europe protests in Independence Square in 2013 (Euromaidan) and the unlawful deposition of President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014, Russia’s accumulated uneasiness over the West’s intentions increased, and its military intervention in Eastern Ukraine soon began. The U.S. actions in Kosovo—carving out an independent state based on ethnicity from within a sovereign nation—provided the precedent for Russia to carve Crimea out of Ukraine. [JB personal note: While serving in Ukraine in 93-95 as a U.S. diplomat -- when a Ukrainian "national identity" was arguably less prevalent (in certain part of Ukraine) than it is now (thanks to Putin's bloody and idiotic KGB [sorry, FSB] actions in Eastern Ukraine; nothing better for nationalism than an outside enemy), I sensed that the then-tragic Yugoslavia situation (the break-up of yet another post-WWI geographical invention) was a "warning signal" to the Ukrainian leadership (so many of whom not-so-ex-communists suspicious of Gorbachev's Western-like "reforms") that "tovarishchi (comrades), we don't want to turn our Soviet republic into the Balkans. So let's keep these linguistic/geographic/cultural questions 'pod kontrolem' ('under control')." 

My favorite anekdot [here slightly embellished(arguably, in many parts of Eastern Europe the "real"way of telling "the truth," even after the Cold War) re the first president of "independent" Ukraine, Leonid Makarovich Kravchuk.

Leonid Makarovich loved to play chess. His ambitious, Western-educated, presidential engineer told LM: Leonid Makarovich, I know you love to play chess. May I propose an electronic chess game for you? 

Of course, says LM. LM fiddled around on the computer chess game, nothing worked right. He calls up the engineer: "What is this about your computer chess game? It doesn't work." 

The engineer dutifully checks the chess game, and humbly, genuflecting, says, "Leonid Makarovich, there is nothing wrong with electronic chess game. It simply doesn't know if you're playing black or white."]

Given all these events, many people declare that a new Cold War has arrived. I don’t agree. It is not too late to repair our relationship with Russia, but real improvement starts with Ukraine—a country of historical strategic interest for Russia and no strategic interest for us [JB note:  A provocative statement which will not be welcomed by Ukrainian-Americans, now safely out of Ukraine! -- or Eastern Europeans who endured Russian/Soviet domination (and -- thank God  -- survived what they/their ancestors leaving the countries/areas they so venerate; although -- the "ideal" countries/areas these new Americans left behind (abandoned is an unfair word to describe hardships suffering peoples wish to overcome as best they can by coming to America) in some cases were a figment of their imagination, even before Soviet brutality arguably made them leave (the population of countries/areas in question during most of the 20th-century) even worse (from an economic, political, and human perspective) than they had been, in some cases, under the Austro-Hungarian [or even Russian] Empire).  Of course, too long a sentence for a complex and tormenting question.

If  Russia does not want to be an outcast in our new century, it has the challenging "public diplomacy" task of demonstrating, by words and deeds, that its foreign policy is no longer aggressive in areas along its periphery. This is perhaps an impossible task. 

Just try to convince Mexicans that the "gringos" are not "aggressive" -- think of the loss of Mexican territory as a result of the U.S.-Mexican war, 1846-1848. But, on a more positive note, after two world wars, the Germans and the French now share a common (but shaky) "European" home.  And Americans now get along fine with Canada -- up to a point. From Wikipedia: 
[In Upper and Lower Canada, British and Provincial militia victories over invading American armies became iconic and promoted the development of a distinct Canadian identity, which included strong loyalty to Britain [JB note: no, not the EU]. Today, particularly in Ontario, memory of the war retains its significance, because the defeat of the invasions ensured that the Canadas would remain part of the British Empire, rather than be annexed by the United States. In Canada, numerous ceremonies took place in 2012 to commemorate the war, offer historical lessons and celebrate 200 years of peace across the border.
In May, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and German Chancellor Angela Merkel both held meetings with Putin, signaling that diplomatic efforts may be beginning to break the current stalemate over the Ukraine crisis. Such efforts must recognize, in retrospect, that all parties are responsible for the current situation: Russia, in its military interventions; the U.S. and Europe, in attempting to bring Ukraine exclusively into the Western sphere, especially NATO; and Ukraine itself, in not taking advantage of opportunities over the last 20 years to improve its governance, reduce corruption, and create greater national unity [JB note: I would note: A failure, early on, to seriously "look into the abyss": the fragility of Soviet-configured Ukraine  ("the" Ukraine) as a viable geographical/political entity]. Accepting this shared responsibility for the crisis in Ukraine, we can pursue an understanding that recognizes both the legitimacy of Russia’s concerns about security threats on its border and the importance of self-determination by the Ukrainian people. Such a deal would have five features:
  1. Russian forces would withdraw from eastern Ukraine, and Russia would accept Ukraine’s current borders in a binding treaty.
  2. Ukraine would agree never join NATO.
  3. Ukraine would be allowed membership in both the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.
  4. A new, internationally supervised referendum would be held in Crimea on whether to join Russia, remain part of Ukraine, or become independent, as Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institution and others have suggested, thereby providing a victory to the West’s core values by promoting authentically democratic self—determination, as opposed to the phony democracy practiced in the referendum held in Crimea last year [JB note: Why limit the referendum to Crimea?]
  5. All economic sanctions on Russia would be lifted.
In short, as the West pursues renewed negotiations with Russia over the Ukraine crisis, these negotiations should not be expected to produce simply a series of Russian concessions. To this suggestion hard-liners in the West will inevitably characterize such thinking as “appeasement.” But compromise is not the same thing as appeasement, especially considering that Putin appears more a tactical opportunist than a strategic warmonger. Providing Russia a sense of territorial security by promising not to expand NATO to Ukraine or Georgia will eliminate the major excuse for expansionist aggression that Putin offers to his people.
Moreover, no alternative proposals to solve the current crisis in Ukraine seem plausible. Economic sanctions and falling oil prices will not alone convert Kremlin behavior via popular pressure, as Putin’s intransigence and high approval ratings among the Russian people indicate. With oil prices now rising, and the ruble partially recovering its value, counting on convulsive economic trouble in Russia would be quixotic.
Since Ukraine is not a member of NATO or vital to critical U.S. interests, Washington should not confront Russia militarily or lead a coalition to do so. And since shipping arms to Ukraine will only escalate the violence with no guarantee of Kiev’s victory over Russia-backed Eastern Ukraine, the U.S. should avoid sending military aid into the region.

What can eliminate Russia’s insecurity is a militarily neutral Ukraine—one that may prosper economically to its fullest potential by being a pawn of neither the West nor of Russia. Militarily neutral, Ukraine would be allowed to participate in both the European Union and the Eurasian Economic Union.

By demonstrating to Russia that the U.S. respects its territorial security, the U.S. could secure the trust of Russia’s people and possibly revive our relationship with the Russian government. And with this crisis behind them, the U.S. and Russia could renew a productive partnership on many of the important problems confronting both of us, including Islamic terrorism, nuclear weapons in Iran, and the long-neglected nuclear arms control process. The U.S. and the current Russian government may not be best of friends, but at least we can avoid becoming enemies.[As a historian, may I note that at a time when Europe was a continent at war with itself, the U.S. and Russia established diplomatic relations; I had the privilege of being an editor of  a joint publication between the two countries on this topic: The United States and Russia: The Beginning of Relations, 1765–1815: Collection of Documents, editors N.N. Bashkina, N.N. Bolkhovitinov, J.H. Brown, et al -- note: editors cited, from a citation in the American Historical Review, are in alphabetical order.]