By Naira Gonzales Aranda
Former US Ambassador John M Koenig gave a presentation at Whatcom regarding our relationship with Russia and past/current events.
Koenig went over what started the deterioration in the relations between Moscow and other Western capitals, the first Cold War, where we’re at now and the brewing of a “new Cold War,” as well as NATO’s part in all of this, all the way up to our current standing.
Koenig went over the first Cold War, happening after World War II dating as early as 1947 and as late as 1991.
Other key aspects of the Cold War that his presentation showed were “the division of Europe, direct military confrontation, nuclear stalemate and arms race, competing ideologies, active convert programs, and economic disengagement.” These were all the catalysts that brought about the Cold War.
Koenig said, the new Cold War showed similar characteristics. From all that was listed, the most important may be the abandonment of arms control agreements.
Koenig went over our relationship with Russia and what he called the decade of “false hope.” A decade that happened from 1989 through 1999. He said it was a “decade of shame and of humiliation.”
Russia’s economy shrank and organized crime appeared. According to Koenig, the tension between Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic was always there. “Russia refused to be treated like any other transitional state,” he said.
Koenig also talked about NATO, The North Atlantic Organization, which consists of 28 members or countries.
According to NATO’s website, “NATO’s essential purpose is to safeguard the freedom and security of its members through political and military means.” Politically, NATO “promotes democratic values and encourages consultation and cooperation on defense and security issues to build trust and, in the long run prevent conflict.” Militarily, NATO “is committed to the peaceful resolutions of conflict.”
Barry Maxwell, a Whatcom professor, explained NATO was started primarily as a fear of what the Soviet Union was going to do.
“They’ve occupied half of Europe and they’ve got a bunch of military forces there, we better get our act together or they’ll start taking countries one by one, so let’s just have this alliance where we agree we’re going to help each other, we’ll train together, we’ll help each other’s militaries, and just plan together and just be ready. Let them know, ‘hey you crossed this line you have all of us to deal with,’” said Maxwell.
Maxwell explained the Russians built their own form of agreement, like NATO, called the Warsaw Pact which included the Soviet Union, Albania, Poland, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria as members, according to History.com.
Koenig also explained that as Russia weakened NATO came about, and Russia was unhappy about this. Many of the members in the Warsaw Pact then joined NATO. Maxwell explained how this bothered Russia specially because countries such as Ukraine, and Georgia have also discussed joining and these are bordering countries to Russia.
Putin came in to power after the Cold War in 2000 around the same time Bush was in power in the U.S. Putin brought out what Koenig and other news sources have coined as “Putinism.”
Maxwell described Putinism as having three basic components. First, an authoritarian regime “where there has to be a strong leader.” Second, where the regime “takes care of insiders economically” and the third thing is to appeal to Russian Nationalism. “The sense of being Russian, Russian greatness…sort of playing in to that.”
Another part of the authoritarian regime is that the media is not free and there is the intimidating of opponents, Maxwell continued.
Koenig explained all this, leading up to the “new Cold War,” which he said showed similar characteristics. It is, according to Koenig, a more volatile but less dangerous war.
Maxwell added this may look like “where each side views each other as an adversary… not just a competitor.”
Koenig also said his idea on how to handle this issue would be a “strategy of containment.” Koenig explained this would be to observe and act accordingly.
Maxwell added trying to keep Russia from getting them and the rest of the world in to some trouble, “trying to keep it from turning in to a nuclear war.”
Koenig predicted Russia facing economic and demographic challenges, to which Maxwell added the fact that their birth rate is declining, life expectancy is declined, so Russia is facing some problems in the future. Koenig then took questions from the audience, and touched on the importance of having a reliable news source and the media’s part in this.
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