Memo to the NYT: The Russia Ship Has Sailed

Ship Sailing Away

The arrogance and solipsism displayed by the editors of the New York Times never fails to amaze me. After spending almost 3 years doing their part to push a conspiracy theory in which Russia was the devil to blame for the fact that we have Trump, which just represented an escalated level of the vilification that has been heaped on Putin and Russia in stages since 2003, the New York Times finally decided in a July 21st oped that just maybe Washington should now try to sorta kinda saddle up to Russia just a tiny bit because…you know, China.


Allow me to provide a short explanation to the out-of-touch NYT editors about why Russia will not be trusting Washington any time soon and has decided that it will likely get better results from the continued strengthening of relations with other important and influential countries.

First, there is the matter of the western corporate media, which is the mouthpiece for the political class, pushing accusations of every incredible crime against Russia’s leader short of cannibalism, and characterizing the Russian people as being inherently dishonest and so primitive that a significant percentage of them are still going to the bathroom in the bushes.

More importantly, however, there are the actual policies that Washington has implemented against Russia since Reagan and Gorbachev negotiated the end of the Cold War, after which Washington chose to take a triumphalist attitude, seeking to press its foot on a supine Russia’s chest as it flexed its muscles in the middle of the ring while the crowds lapped it up.

As readers of this blog are well aware, Secretary of State James Baker, along with other prominent members of the leadership of the western world, promised Gorbachev in early 1990 that in exchange for allowing a reunified Germany into NATO, the military alliance would not move “one inch east” further toward Russia’s borders. This promise was crucial in getting Gorbachev’s agreement as Germany had marched into Russia through the Polish-Ukrainian corridor twice in the first half of the 20th century, the second time resulting in the deaths of 27 million Soviets and the utter destruction of a third of the USSR during WWII.

In 1999, against the advice of knowledgeable diplomats and others, Bill Clinton broke that promise and welcomed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into the alliance.

In 2002, George W. Bush unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, one of three legs of the nuclear arms control arrangements between the two nuclear superpowers, in order to pursue a possible first strike advantage over Russia, upsetting the strategic nuclear balance.

In 2004, NATO was expanded further with the entry of seven new members, including the Baltic states right on Russia’s western border.

In 2006, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a visit to Moscow, had a heated exchange with Putin about the eventual entry of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Putin explained that Ukraine was a culturally and ethnically divided country and pushing Ukraine into NATO would likely set off a negative cascade of consequences that would ultimately be detrimental to both Ukraine and Russia. He warned Rice that such a move would amount to “playing with fire.” Two years later, in a cable back to Washington, then ambassador to Russia, William Burns, relayed a conversation with Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, in which Lavrov reiterated that Ukraine in NATO was a red line for Russia, presciently citing the possibility that exploiting Ukraine’s divisions on behalf of NATO expansion could lead to a civil war and Russia would be faced with having to choose whether or not to intervene – a decision Lavrov said Russia did not want to make.

In 2013-14, the democratically elected leader of Ukraine was pushed out in an illegal coup, actively supported by Washington with neo-Nazis acting as the muscle, that brought an anti-Russian government into power. Crimea, which had historically been part of Russia since the late 18th century with a majority of its population comprised of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers, also had an important naval base on its coast called Sevastopol. Crimea/Sevastopol had been administratively moved by Khrushchev in 1954 from Russia to Ukraine, with no one yet foreseeing the future breakup of the USSR. In 1991, as Ukraine gained its independence, Crimea remained with Ukraine as an autonomous region and Russia retained its naval base in Sevastopol via a leasing agreement with Kiev. As events unfolded on the Maidan in February of 2014, the Russian government feared that NATO could move in on its naval base in Sevastopol.

Earlier this year, with U.S.-Russia relations at an all-time low amidst the constant media rants of Trump being an agent of the Kremlin with Robert Mueller in the role of Mighty Mouse on his way to save the day, the Trump administration announced its unilateral withdrawal from the INF Treaty, the second leg of the nuclear arms control stool.

The New START Treaty, the third and last remaining leg of the stool, which expires in 2021, does not look like it’s long for this world either.

At this point, it’s no wonder that Russia would decide to turn toward constructive working relationships with other countries and multilateral institutions that aren’t controlled by Washington, such as China, the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), SCO, the Chinese Asian Investment Infrastructure Bank, and others.

China is the world’s other major economic power and the leadership in both Russia and China have publicly described the relationship between the two countries as a “strategic partnership.” And the ties seem to be strengthening all the time. According to news recently aggregated by Russia Matters, Russia and China have stepped up joint military practices:

Russian and Chinese bombers conducted their first long-range joint air patrol in the Asia-Pacific on July 23. 

To reinforce the strategic importance of Russian-Chinese relations, the day after these maneuvers, the Chinese government published a “white paper” in which it promised to further increase military cooperation between the two countries. More from Russia Matters:

Releasing a new defense “white paper” on July 24, China vowed to step up military cooperation with Russia and accused the U.S. of undermining regional stability, the Wall Street Journal reported. The Sino-Russian military relationship, in contrast, plays “a significant role in maintaining global strategic stability,” the paper said. 

Though it aspires to have the leadership role in the region, unlike Washington, China generally does not appear to adhere to a zero-sum mentality in its relations with other nations, opting to focus on investing in mutually beneficial economic projects such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union is working with the BRI, as is Europe, many of the central Asian countries, Iran and Pakistan. In order for this ambitious project of a modern, high-tech trade route on land and sea that parallels the old Silk Road, China and its partners need a stable Eurasia with a developed infrastructure. Therefore, peace is in all these players’ interests.

As for those who say that ties between the two countries are undermined by China’s potential future designs on Russian territory, I see no substantive evidence that China would do anything of the sort in connection with Russia – a nuclear superpower and, as Obama even begrudgingly admitted before leaving office, is the world’s second most powerful military.  There is simply no reason to believe that China’s leadership is stupid or crazy enough to think such a move would be in their interests. It’s not the 1960’s with loose cannons like Khrushchev and Mao at the helm.

Moreover, what Tao Wang of Yicai Research Institute stated at the East Asia Forum three years ago about the Russian-Chinese relationship is still relevant:

….China and Russia are still complementary economies. One is rich in resources and high military technology, while the other is good at mass manufacturing and rich in cash. This complementarity is well demonstrated by their partnership in Central Asia, where China provides investment in resource-rich yet unpredictable countries while Russia ensures the stability of ruling regimes.

So the question becomes: what does Washington really have to offer Russia at this point that would be worth them seriously considering throwing themselves into the Washington camp at China’s expense?

The only truly valuable things that Washington could offer are 1) meaningful nuclear arms control negotiations, and 2) putting a freeze on NATO expansion. Unfortunately, I don’t see either of these things happening in Washington any time soon. Even if Trump decided he really wanted to pursue these things, there is no one around him that could competently conduct negotiations and the infrastructure for meaningful diplomacy – as opposed to the “everything for me and nothing for you” approach that Washington mistakes for diplomacy – is non-existent right now.

But even more than that, why in the world would Russia trust any agreement that Washington got them to sign when it repeatedly breaks agreements whenever it wants? If there’s one thing that Washington has been a smashing success at since the end of the Cold War, it would be convincing the rest of the world that its word isn’t worth 2 cents.

Too many people in the insulated political class in Washington (I’m looking right at you, NYT editors) continue to see the world as a bad facsimile of a professional wrestling show where the goodies and the baddies can switch sides from week to week with just a change of costume and a ham-handed change of narrative at their direction. In the real world, when you’ve spent years pitching diplomacy out the window and systematically destroying any modicum of trust, it works a little differently.

13 thoughts on “Memo to the NYT: The Russia Ship Has Sailed”

  1. Great piece, Natylie! The MSM has been down-playing what in reality has been a tight Russia-China relationship for decades, getting stronger via the personal chemistry between Putin and Xi. (Did you see the picture of Putin showing off St Petersburg to Xi a couple of weeks ago: as for the BRICS, they started it in 2009 together — or Putin did. Some in DC apparently hope they can take on Russia alone BEFORE ‘pivoting to China’. Sweet dreams! Trump is all for ‘getting along’, but the ‘adults in the room’ won’t allow it.

  2. “The only truly valuable things that Washington could offer are 1) meaningful nuclear arms control negotiations, and 2) putting a freeze on NATO expansion. ”

    It’s too late. At this point meaningful offers will be compensation for and rolling back of sanctions. And rolling nato back to Germany as it was promised.

  3. It’s a very good article. I only have two points to make:
    1. In 1969, Mao was instigating a border clash with Brezhnev, not Khrushchev.
    2. Maybe the only meaningful exchange which would benefit the American people, the Russians and the whole world peace is the dissolution of both NATO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the same time.

    1. You’re right about it being Brezhnev and not Khrushchev. I corrected it in the post above. I actually knew that Khrushchev was deposed in 1964 – I just screwed up when I wrote that sentence. 🙂

      The dissolution of NATO and SCO simultaneously is a very interesting idea. I don’t know if China would think it was a fair exchange or not. It would be interesting to hear others’ thoughts on this idea.

  4. There is more to it. This oped is not just obsolete-on-arrival, it is also heretic!

    NYT: Until recently, any relationship between Russia and China could largely be dismissed as a marriage of convenience.

    Where did it come from???

    That passage just is akin to find some anime video with a lecturing kid and put there “Never underestimate power of marriage of convenience”, in a well known meme pattern.

    No, really, that line would fit fine in media of North Korea or Iran – nations based upon ideologies of struggle against overwhelming enemy.

    But USA was capitalistic land last checked. And, allegedly liberal and individualistic one.

    And for capitalism framework – marriage of convenience is the primary building block of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g!

    Under capitalism it is postulated since Adam Smith every single person is “rational market agent” in never-ending pursuit of one’s own “convenience”.

    And then some people come together to create… everything: corporations, state structures, political parties, etc.

    During Wild West townfolk were hiring bandits to become their protectors, sheriffs.

    What was that if not “marriage of convenience” for both bandit and citizenry, turning chaotic and violent ransoms into predictable and modest payments?

    When a person goes daily to some office he does not own and then collects one’s payroll bimonthly – isn’t it all about “marriage of convenicence” between employee and employer?

    So what it was with NYT to proclaim MoC – the core foundational element of liberal capitalism and thus of USA (at least officially) – to be something to be derided and snobbishly looked upon?

    Does NYT now decry all USA ideological foundations?

    Is NYT now owned by Ayatollahs or Kim?

    How could the alleged mouthpiece of global liberal capitalism ever so casually write off the very foundations of it? What kind of cohesion do they propose to USA if MoC is considered no more worth consideration now?

    1. Pete> putting a freeze on NATO expansion

      Russia would not pay for what it already has for free.
      NATO expansion stop is largely fait accompli.
      NATO already expanded to almost all the places it could to.
      What is still on the table? Israel or Australia? Russia could not care less. Ukraine? this Libya-of-Europe would be liability for NATO, it might be used by NATO like Kosovo wilderness, but not officially incorporated. What else, Sweden, Finland? Well, that would be bitter, of course, but would it really be that bad for Russia to trade something tangential for yet another package of promises?

      James> the dissolution of both NATO and Shanghai Cooperation Organization at the same time

      Why would Russia want it?

      1. SCO is a body that unites bitter rivals of Pakistan and India. For decades Indochina was split into bitterly warring blocks: USSR+India+Afghanistan vs USA+China+Pakistan. Now China turned more to Russia and Modi-regime India turned more to USA. Meanwhile USA largely abandoned Pakistan making Chinese influence in it unopposed. India today at the same time makes military postures against both China and Pakistan and bargaining for economic sweeteners, very Kim-way. But no one would want erratic DPRK-kind land of India size. So, India is to be pacified with carrot and stick. Or the concept of OBOR/BRI will have a huge hole in it. And so will Russia’s concept of “energy superpower”. SCO is one of carrots, and last year both India and Pakistan raced to join it before one another. Undoing this is not in long-term interests of ALL nations members of SCO.

      2. Check the sells, accomplished and rumored, of Russian missiles. S-400 to China, Turkey, India. Rumours about Pakistan testing waters. A-2500 (S-300 derivative) to Iran.
      Look on map, does not it look as all the southern arc of “heartland” gets covered with networkable and compatible AD stations? Soon there would be an option (and maybe it will go real) for SCO officially assume command of now separate nation-own AD stations and re-network them into pan-Eurasian southern AD line.

      What there would be for Russia in NATO dissolution to overweight it?

      “The DOUBLE HELIX: CHINA-RUSSIA” was in the making for years. Canadian Chinese were warning about that as far back as 2005 (see “Beijing 2008” painting of that year). USA preferred to be blind and deaf in her arrogance of choice. And now it is too late for all the parties, too much invested by everyone.

  5. I think I jumped too quickly while I was proposing dissolution of NATO and SCO simultaneously.
    NATO is more of a military organization and SCO is mainly an Economic one with potential to transform into a military one as well.
    Maybe a feasible approach is: US withdrawal from NATO in exchange for Russia not to join the military part of SCO.

    1. NATO today is mostly USA+Turkey+Poland. Turkey after Gullen’s failed coup is more liability to NATO than part of anti-Russian spearhead. Binary cooperation USA-Poland can be proceed outside NATO framework.

      Equally SCO military might is mostly China+Russia and this military cooperation is going on on bilateral terms for years.

      Also, what would follow American withdrawal from NATO?
      Will NATO nations drop US military hardware in use and purchase all Russian instead? That would be the tasty, but unrealistic.
      “Bringing boys back home”, less US spending on foreign military bases and MIC ransom? What would be good for Russia in it?

      One problem of Rusophrenia, it makes all talking heads always be few steps behind.
      If you want to bribe a beggar you would not offer him gold or cars, you would give him a meal, and maybe some second hand robes.
      As long as Russia is portrayed a beggar in tatters, USA just can not offer bribe valuable enough even if it still has one.
      And when USA gets pushed by reality to reluctantly promote Russia up one rank – maybe not beggar, maybe just a shack dweller – it when Russia became 3 steps ahead and American catching up is again not enough.

      USA is like that aging rejectful princess that slowly gets to terms with her aging, but still not fast enough to consider real deals, which progressively become fewer and thinner.

  6. likes Ms Baldwin’s sarcasm about the NYT and US Government’s unreliability. Vladislav Krasnov
    the New York Times finally decided in a July 21st oped that just maybe Washington should now try to sorta kinda saddle up to Russia just a tiny bit because…you know, China.
    See More

  7. Excellent piece! What I particularly enjoyed, while on the subject of “arrogance and solipsism” was the criticism that Trump’s “approach has been ham-handed”.
    What, now you tell us that getting along with Russia is a good idea and not treason?
    Further proof that the stenographers don’t even read what they re-type.

    1. Thanks, Patrick! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. I read your SITREPS regularly and find them informative and entertaining.

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