Jeff Tayler has lived and worked in Russia for many years, writing for The Atlantic as a correspondent and editor. (He also promotes atheism and criticizes religion at places like Slate and Quillette). This is to say that he has considerably more experience and knowledge about Russia than those of us who rely on the news secondhand. And Russia is a pressing subject these days, what with Putin making incursions into Syria, Crimea and Ukraine, Trump apparently cozying up to Putin and threatening to abandon NATO, and with both the US and Russia still having a huge armament of nuclear weapons. As I’ve said before, one of the things I fear about a Trump presidency is that he’s sufficiently clueless that he can’t play international politics, especially when the stakes are high, and both he and Putin have virtually unchecked power to destroy us all.
Tayler’s new piece in Quillette, “The deal Trump should strike with Putin“, should be mandatory reading for both leaders, but especially Trump. It avoids name-calling and is simply a sober assessment of the dangers we face and the opportunities that are within our grasp for detente. It’s a long piece, but well worth reading. I’ll give just one excerpt dealing with the issue of Russian “imperialism”:
How would Ukraine figure into the deal Trump should strike with Putin? Trump would renounce NATO’s promise of eventual NATO membership to Ukraine (and Georgia) in return for Russia’s recognition that both countries, while remaining neutral, would be free to join whatever political and economic blocs they choose. This is essentially what both Kissinger and Brzezinski have already proposed. Full implementation of the stalled Minsk Accords, reached in February 2015 and foreseeing autonomy for the Donbas, would end the conflict in Ukraine’s east. This might prompt a violent reaction against the Ukrainian government from the far-right militias fighting on Kiev’s side in the region. Ultimately, though, that would be an issue for the Ukrainian government, not the United States, to deal with.
Additionally, NATO and Russia would withdraw their militaries to pre-2014 postures. NATO would halt and reverse the deployment of approximately four thousand troops to the Baltic states and Poland. (Stationed on a rotating basis so as not to violate the alliance’s Founding Act with Russia, the troops are intended as a “trip wire” and could not, in any case, halt a Russian invasion of the Baltic countries, which would take as little as sixty hours.) Russia would redeploy forces it has moved close to the Baltic frontier, and take out the short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander missiles it has sent to Kaliningrad, on the Polish border. Both sides would cease conducting provocative military exercises, and Russia would stop sending its fighter jets to violate European airspace and buzz U.S. warships.
The status of Crimea presents a significant hurdle to be overcome. The peninsula officially became part of Russia in 2014. A great majority of both ethnic Russians and Ukrainians in Crimea favor remaining within the Russian Federation. To settle the matter, Russia could agree to hold another referendum, but this time under the auspices of the United Nations. If the results show that Crimea’s population wishes to stay within Russia, as is highly likely, the United States should recognize this, and, of course, the White House should drop the Crimea-related sanctions implemented by executive order. If Crimeans choose to return to Ukraine, Russia should honor their wishes.
There’s a lot more, and I haven’t seen anything this informative about the issue of Russia and the U.S.