Europe’s and the United States’ principal challenge for the coming years is to develop a new strategy for dealing with Russia. This strategy will have to be built on a realistic understanding of Russia as it is, rather than on what the West would like it to be and hopes it will one day become.
John Mroz, who died earlier this month, was the founder of the EastWest Institute, a novel concept of a “think and do tank” which sought to organize Track 2 and Track 1.5 discussions across the Cold War divide. Mroz has departed precisely at the moment when the need for his services has peaked again.
The tensions between Russia and the West heightened over the issues of compliance with the INF treaty. In this case, it would not be prudent for Russia to seriously compromise its long-term security yet again while pursuing tactical goals or relying on superficial arguments.
The United States seems intent to force Russia into capitulation over Ukraine, a situation caused by a poor understanding of economics on the part of Putin’s advisers. While low intensity battle will likely linger on, Russia remains in a more maneuverable position to offer a deal to the United States.
During the Cold War, both Washington and Moscow actively encouraged, financed, and supported proxy wars across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In the eyes of many influential figures in Moscow, that is precisely what is happening in Ukraine today.
The Kremlin now sees the U.S. goal as the toppling of the Putin regime. That said, expecting Putin to back off betrays a lack of understanding of the gravity of the situation. It is no longer just a struggle for Ukraine, but a battle for Russia.
MH17 may well be a turning point in the Ukraine conflict, but President Putin remains unlikely to back down despite economic pressure from the West. Russians may look back to the summer of 2014 years from now as a game changer.
The downing of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 plane over Eastern Ukraine catapults the crisis there onto the global plane. The tragic and sudden loss of so many innocent lives should put a final point to the armed conflict—or it may put the international conflict over Ukraine on a much higher and more dangerous level.