Jim Clark: With Russia, U.S. needs to work on trust (opinion)
January 13, 2017
A recent USA Today comprehensive analysis of the Crimean Peninsula casts a new light on the dust up between President Obama and President-elect Trump.
Readers may recall that in the early days of the Obama Administration newly appointed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton appeared at a photo op with Russia's ambassador.
Clinton produced an outsized buzzer-like object captioned "reset button" and the two diplomats smiled for the camera to illustrate the Obama Administration policy of improving relations with Russia. It didn't happen.
In 2014, Russian security forces occupied Crimea, which belonged to Ukraine, following a series of anti-corruption protests that culminated in the ouster of pro-Moscow Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
The former Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic had been cozying up to the west since its 1991 independence following the collapse of the Soviet Union, so Europe and the U.S. condemned Russia's "Anschluss" as an illegal annexation and imposed economic sanctions.
Russia responded by holding a referendum in which 95% of Crimean voters supported joining Russia but the sanctions … and the tense relations … remained.
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Fast forward to the 2016 US election. With almost drum beat regularity, WikiLeaks began releasing hacked Democratic Party emails that were generally embarrassing to Clinton and her presidential campaign.
Following Trump's surprise victory and the GOP's retention of Congress, distraught Democratic officials began looking for someone or something to blame.
Although Russia, China and Iran had been "hacking" U.S. computer systems for many years, Obama blamed Russia and imposed additional sanctions. A week later, he got two of his three intelligence agencies to concur with his conclusion "with a high degree of confidence" (the third was more reticent to unqualifiedly support the conclusion).
Trump, who did not want Clinton blaming Russians for her loss, objected, then reluctantly agreed adding that the hack did not impact the election outcome.
So what does USA Today's Crimean piece have to do with current events? Crimea became part of Russia when it was seized by Catherine the Great in 1783.
It became a base for Russia's navy during a dispute with Turkey (for which Czar Catherine hired US Navy hero John Paul Jones in 1787). Following the Communist Revolution, Crimea became a Soviet Socialist republic.
In 1954, Nikita Khrushchev "gave" Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, which meant little until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and Ukraine became independent.
The USA Today reporter extensively interviewed Crimeans and found that almost universally they were unhappy under Ukraine.
Under Russia, Crimea has become a tourist haven and an economic powerhouse. There are a dozen flights daily from Moscow, and foreign trade is burgeoning despite western sanctions. Polls show that Vladimir Putin is riding a wave of popularity in Crimea.
If the newspaper report is correct, it's possible, if not probable, that the Obama administration made a mistake punishing Russia for "freeing" Crimean Russians; it's clear that his disapproval and imposition of sanctions trashed his "reset button" policy.
Now he appears to have doubled down on punishing Russia for hacking of Democratic Headquarters after Clinton's surprise election loss.
In an earlier column, I pointed out that of all our nation's nemeses, Russia is the only country whose deployed nuclear weapon capability is equal to or greater that America's. No other country … China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan … even comes close.
So why is Obama trying to derail relations with Russia when history shows that we have been able to coexist with them?
Hopefully when the guy who wrote "The Art of the Deal" takes office on January 20, he will be able to explore mutually beneficial foreign policy options.
Ronald Reagan said of Russia: "Trust but verify." Maybe it's time to work on the "trust" part.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Wshoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.