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September 29, 2022

Yalta redivivus (I)

Two comments posted on a recent article published by a prestigious American magazine immediately drew my attention. Not because I first read the comments to articles, but because, after finishing reading the article, I was struck by the opinions posted by the two readers. The first: “Very good article. The writer mentioned ‘dividing the world into spheres of influence’. A lot of foreign policy seems to be all about controlling markets and defending turf. Throw in some ‘containment policies’ to prevent your rival from branching out…and there you go. China, Russia, Europe, and the United States all want their share of the global pie. Hopefully, the mafia bosses can get together without blowing up the planet. After-all, war is bad for business…unless you have a lot of chips on the Military-Industrial Complex table. Then, as John Lennon sang…’happiness is a warm gun…” The second: “I agree with the idea of dividing the world into geopolitical spheres of influence. It should at minimum include the United States, Russia, India, & China. We/ USA/  would be in charge of the Western Hemisphere. China over the Far East. Russia over the countries of the former Soviet Union. India gets the Indian Ocean. There could be a lower tier of countries with their own smaller spheres of influence or being strong enough to be outside a sphere of influence. Nations like Japan, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Germany, & France.

Basically, those comments strengthened my belief that the article I had just read belonged to a different era (as did the demarches of the authors of the aforementioned comments), one spanning from the Congress of Vienna of 1815 to the Helsinki Final Act of August 1975, if not to the end of the Cold War in 1990-1991. Because there are theses that this unexpected end of the Cold War, through the dissolution of the USSR, without a shot being fired, had still unclear causes, including, it is claimed, unknown or yet to be known agreements between the great powers. Hence, the overture of the mentioned article was far from the international public opinion’s current mentality, that of a globalised world in which nations compete based on the ‘win-win’ formula, regardless of their size – in terms of square kilometres or population –, considering themselves legally equals on the international stage and refusing the division into spheres of influence dominated by the great powers. Because that is stipulated by the international regulations in force, which form the basis of the current global order which was the political will expressed at the Euro-Atlantic echelon, hence including by post-Cold War Russia, recalling the Paris Charter of November 1990, to mention just one document in support of these statements.

That article, which generated comments such as those quoted, was published no later than 31 January 2017 (in a prestigious American magazine, as mentioned) and its author is a known Russian academic – Andranik Migranyan, who holds important offices both at a Moscow university of repute and at a foreign policy research institute based in the Russian capital. He argues his overture through the openness that new American President D. Trump has shown in bilateral Russia – U.S. relations: “If Trump’s victory is truly the beginning of a new paradigm in domestic and particularly in foreign policy, and a transition from globalism to nationalism, we can expect major changes in U.S. foreign policy. This could open new opportunities for Russian-American relations.” And the first such opportunity refers, in Migranyan’s view, to reorganising the Eastern European region, so that the Ukraine case, but also the fears of Poland, of the Baltic States and of other Eastern states that they might face Russian aggression could be allayed/solved.

Here is how the aforementioned author sees a proper solution, and I point out to the reader that we are dealing with an author who is not at all obscure, moreover, he is involved in training international relations specialists: “If Trump indeed reassesses the U.S. attitude toward NATO, as a residue of the Cold War, and toward Europe overall, it may allow Moscow and Washington to prevent the Baltic states and Poland from continuing to create tensions, spoiling Russian-American relations and drawing the United States into conflict with Moscow under the false pretext of a Russian threat. In this case, politicians in Washington might no longer see Russia as an enemy that must be contained through endless strengthening of NATO and full mobilization of U.S. and European forces. The relationship between Washington and Moscow could become more pragmatic, similar to Washington‘s relationships with other European countries. This would entail a predominantly bilateral character, in contrast to current relations, which are primarily alliance-based, multilateral and anti-Russian, thanks to the efforts of a number of European countries.” As can be noticed, the Russian author mentions the start of a new bilateral relations paradigm, namely one relieved of the burden of the justified interests of U.S. allies, many of them neighbouring Russia and being under the pressure of Russia’s growing assertiveness. In other words, a bilateral relationship in which the U.S. leaves the NATO alliance, its strategic partnerships, in return for a geopolitical situation which the author describes as follows: “In those new circumstances, if needed, Russia could provide guarantees of security and territorial integrity to some countries in eastern Europe, if their protection under Article Five of the NATO Charter is not sufficient. Thus, Russia could clearly show that it is not an enemy of the West, and has no intention of attacking the Baltic states or Poland, where hysterical discussions began after the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea’s reintegration into Russia. [my emphasis] For Moscow to normalize relations with Washington, it needs American recognition that Ukraine is a special case for Russia.”

A few words on this unexpected proposal that comes from a Russian expert in international relations. Since the inauguration of President D. Trump several weeks ago, the international media is insistently debating the dossier of relations between the U.S. and Russia, several main trends being visible. Particularly strong among them is the one which foresees a new era in American-Russian relations, based on wide-ranging agreement on sensitive dossiers, such as Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Syria, NATO expansion, the situation in the Greater Middle East, the global and European strategic balance. A series of scenarios about such a Russia – U.S. agreement are circulating, among which the one about a new Yalta-type agreement enjoys wide circulation, its supporters among the fans of Realpolitik being not few. But, to mention another reader’s comment to the aforementioned proposal: “I don’t know if the author is seriously mentally ill or is he just joking and making fun of the intelligence of the readers of TNI./…/ I can not stop wondering why the author does not openly propose that USA does join the Russia and make V. Putin the POTUS.”

But the proposal of a U.S. – Russia condominium in Eastern Europe, including NATO allies, is not the only one listed in the aforementioned article. We will see some of the others in the next article.

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