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Raymond J. Learsy Headshot

The Crisis With Russia and the Unspoken Link

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Riveting as always at the Aspen Institute, which hosted a stellar, deeply informed panel this past Friday bringing together Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and moderated by Harvard Kennedy School Professor Nicholas Burns. It would have been hard to assemble a more knowledgeable, cogent and engaging panel. In addition, each had the pointed benefit of having met personally with President Putin at some or varied stages of their careers in public service.

The conversation focusing on the current Russian imbroglio with the Ukraine and Western/NATO efforts to neutralize Russian ambitions countering Ukraine's volition to distance itself from the embrace of Russia and to engage more directly economically and politically with the West.

The conversation, as could be expected, focused on the issue's lead protagonist, Russia's President Putin, who became, in the conversation, the point person for Russia's psyche at this juncture in its history. A juncture which, according to the panelists, had evolved as the most serious political crisis since the Cold War. Putin's comments such as "The breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest historic tragedy of the 20th Century" was set upon as a key component in Russia/Putin's current thinking and policy motivations.

Aspects of Russian history were touched upon ranging back to the legacies of Alexander the Great, to the efficacy or lack thereof, of current sanction policies. But throughout there was a sense of moral condemnation toward Russia, that Putin's actions could not be condoned given their dismissal of the current universal acceptance of the sanctity of national borders and the universally accepted legitimization by the free choice of national electorates. The sense of underlying outrage was palpable.

And yet, never once was there any mention of an analogous event where the tables were turned and it was we, the United States, who acted with outrage and a deep concern to the point of near mutual annihilation. This, of course was that frightening drama in 1962, remembered as the Cuban Missile Crisis. At the time we felt endangered and did all that was needed to be done, within a hair's breadth short of war, to neutralize and remove the Russian imposed missile threat from Cuba.

Then Cuba was our Ukraine, even though Cuba had never served as a gateway to invade our homeland, a truism that cannot be said of the Ukraine and Russia where even today in Kiev's Independence Square a huge poster extolling Stephen Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist and Hitler's ally during World War II, greets the passerby.

Perhaps, with a better understanding and consideration of history there would be less moral outrage. With a clearer perception of the rightful concerns promulgated in both the American and Russian historical experience being given their proper weight, a more rational and constructive dialogue could emerge.