DOHA, Qatar — Few of the Trump administration’s priorities have received as much criticism from the American foreign policy establishment as the president’s desire to improve relations with Russia. President Trump’s allegedly pro-Russian policies have been the subject of conspiracy theories and scandal.
This makes little sense. There are many good reasons for the United States to reach conciliation with Moscow on issues from Eastern Europe to the Middle East. The real question will be if Washington can control its own desire for global hegemony enough to make that possible.
Unlike China, Russia is not an emerging peer competitor to the United States. Russia is a regional power struggling to retain a fragment of its former sphere of influence. Moreover, it should be a natural ally of the United States in the fight against Islamist extremism. A reduction of tension with Russia would allow the United States to concentrate on more important geopolitical issues.
Ultimately, the United States may have no choice but to work with Russia. The West’s previous strategy has run its course, as recent policy failures make clear. Plans to expand American support for the former Soviet countries ring hollow. The United States and NATO did not fight for Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014. They will not do so in the future. In these circumstances, holding open the possibility of NATO membership for these countries, as the West has done for years, is pointless. By the same token, the populations of the European Union — an organization wrestling with existential problems of its own — have no will to help Ukraine join their club in the foreseeable future. In Syria, the United States and its allies seem to be torn between wanting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad and wanting to contain the jihadists who oppose him. Russia, on the other hand, has made its position clear.
Repairing relations with Russia can begin in Ukraine. The parameters for such a compromise were laid out in the Minsk agreement of 2015, which committed Russia to disarm separatists in eastern Ukraine and Ukraine to draw up a new federal constitution granting enhanced autonomy to the Donbas, the eastern Ukrainian region that has declared independence. The United States should work with Russia on a compromise for the Donbas, which should be demilitarized and secured by a United Nations peacekeeping force. Meanwhile, the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula should be accepted (since short of a world war there is no way Russia will give it up). Though the annexation shouldn’t be recognized legally, American sanctions on Russia should be lifted…
(Cont) NEW YORK TIMES