As long as Cold War rhetoric continues to dominate the debate over Ukraine, Western politicians such as Donald Trump will have a difficult time proposing any type of compromise or reconciliation with Russia.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign rally in Toledo, Ohio. Photo: AP

Unfortunately, no real thought has been given to the possibility of finding any desirable solution to the Ukraine crisis that will bring together Russia and the West. Positions continue to harden, and more of the old Cold War style of thinking has entered the public debate. And when leaders such as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump hint that a relationship might be possible with Russia, the political establishment immediately attacks them for their lack of foreign policy credentials.

We’re now in a situation where Cold War rhetoric dominates the public debate. Everyone wants to mimic the great historical figures like former U.S. President Ronald Reagan and UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, perhaps forgetting that “history is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies,” as Alexis de Tocqueville,
a French diplomat, political scientist, and historian once pointed out.

Both Republicans and Democrats are consciously identifying anti-Soviet with anti-Russian sentiments in order to persuade the international community that it is Russia that is aggressive towards its neighbors and represents a security threat. The current thinking now is that, just as during the Cold War, Russia is attempting to destabilize Europe by invading former Communist states in order to expand the Kremlin’s sphere of influence in the region.

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Empowered by this Cold War approach, Washington’s neoconservatives and liberal hawks are indeed determined “to break the back of the Russian government.” In doing so, they are following an agenda set by well-known political expert Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as an advisor to President Lyndon Johnson from 1966–1968 and was U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor from 1977–1981.

In Brzezinski’s famous book titled The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives, the rule over the world has to be directed from a single center (which is Washington, D.C.), and Europe has to unite only to the extent that it does not threaten U.S. leadership. Furthermore, Brzezinski recognized Ukraine as the key to gain control over Eurasia, and therefore the world, and proposed that Ukraine should join NATO despite its declaration of “perpetual neutrality.”

However, many prominent Western thinkers and specialists in European and Russian politics have disagreed with Brzezinski. It is important to mention Andrew Wilson’s book Ukrainians, Unexpected Nation as well as Anatol Lieven’s book Ukraine and Russia: A Fraternal Rivalry, in which the author opposed Brzezinski’s plans, and considered such ideas as dangerous.

Nevertheless, Brzezinski’s work, which was published for the first time in 1998, could only fully gain its momentum during this year’s NATO summit. This only demonstrated that NATO and Russia keep looking at each other through the lens of the Cold War, and that means positive changes in their relationship are hardly like to happen in the near future.

Despite the fact that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has accused NATO of “warmongering” against Russia, one can easily admit that this year’s summit marked the most serious attempt to lambast Russia for its foreign policy overtures since the end of the Cold War. NATO aimed at portraying Russian President Vladimir Putin as the real threat to the West.

Likewise, Trump is seen as a threat in Europe and, particularly, in Poland. One of the reasons might be the Republican Party’s foreign policy platform for the 2016 presidential election.

On July 18, the Trump campaign team successfully managed to prevent the new Republican platform from mentioning any commitment to providing “lethal defensive weapons” to Kiev, leaving in its place only a mention of “appropriate assistance to the armed forces of Ukraine.” This stance is hardly likely to have pleased some NATO members and, especially, Antoni Macierewicz, Poland’s Defense Minister, and his Ukrainian counterpart, Stepan Poltorak.

This move from the new GOP nominee will hardly win him friends, but most certainly can win him enemies on both sides of the Atlantic. It is not ruled out that they will do their best to lambast him by accusing of being a “Kremlin agent” in Washington, as New York magazine did, or portray him as “dangerous for America and the world,” like Rachel Hoff,
a Republican platform committee member, did. Likewise, other Republicans criticized Trump as a “betrayal of the U.S. commitment to supporting struggling democracies around the world.”

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Those who accuse Trump of betraying U.S. values in promoting democracy probably forget that Trump is not alone on the issue of arming Ukraine — the Obama administration also was opposed to this move. Moreover, Trump is supported in his decision by intellectual figures like defensive realist Professor Stephan Walt from Harvard University and realist Professor John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago.

“Yet, ironically, Washington and other Western powers have impeded potential progress through their often hypocritical focus on ideas such as democratization, inequality, corruption and regime change,” said Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser to Trump, who has accused Western policy makers of still clinging to the Cold War rhetoric. This, he says, prevents the West from reconciliation with Putin’s Russia.

What did Trump mean by admitting that he would “get along very well” with Putin? Mike Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), who has served as
a foreign policy advisor to Trump since fall 2015, gave the reasons in an interview for Spiegel, a German magazine.

“He [Trump] respects people who are selfish about their country,” Flynn said. “Putin is a guy who is very selfish about Russia and about the Russian Federation, and he understands the history of his country. You can't say, ‘I don't like you.’ You’ve got to respect him. He’s a world leader. Putin will be a reliable partner for certain things for the United States.”

The upcoming American elections are going to take place in November and one never knows who may win. It is also impossible to predict how, if elected, Trump will act and whether he will stick to his pre-election policy stances.

On the contrary, what it is known today is that abandoning (or at least alleviating) the Cold War rhetoric that presents Russia as a dangerous threat would be a groundbreaking achievement in U.S.-Russia relations. The next American president would be well advised to take this into account.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.