Ukraine act in US poses further provocation to delicate relationship

By Clifford A. Kiracofe Source:Global Times Published: 2015-1-6 21:03:01

US relations with Russia took a sharp downturn with the Ukraine Freedom Support Act of 2014 recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.  

Because major-power relations are a critical factor in the international system, this development in US-Russia relations is significant and can increase global tensions.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the legislation will poison relations for decades to come. This is a realistic possibility given Washington's mindset which precludes treating sovereign states, especially Russia, on the basis of equality and respect.

The newest US anti-Russia legislation authorizes the president to impose various additional economic sanctions against Russia, to provide defense and other assistance to Ukraine, and to step up information war broadcasting targeting Russia.

The provocative legislation reflects the strong Cold War oriented neoconservative influence in the Democratic and Republican parties.  

Medvedev pointedly placed the Ukraine legislation in historical context, comparing it to the Jackson-Vanik legislation in the 1974 Trade Act signed into law by former US president Gerald Ford in 1975. 

This Cold War law linked US-Russia trade relations to human rights issues. The primary objective was to allow Jews to emigrate from Russia, which imposed harsh limits on domestic emigration, especially to Israel. The law denied Russia and other "non-market states" normal trading status with the US until the human rights situation as defined by Washington improved.

Henry Jackson was a leading Cold War politician who promoted the neoconservative network's hawkish foreign policy and defense views. Richard Perle, a prominent neoconservative then on his staff, helped write the legislation. Many hoped the legislation would strengthen Israel through increased immigration. 

Congress repealed the Jackson-Vanik legislation concerning Russia in November 2012 because Russia had become a member of the WTO, whose rules prohibit such discriminatory legislation targeting member states.

The repeal of Jackson-Vanik legislation, however, was linked to the simultaneous passage of a new human rights law called the Magnitsky Act. This law contains sanctions against 18 Russian officials who Washington alleges are guilty of violating the human rights of Sergei Magnitsky, an anti-corruption whistle-blower who died after being held without trial for nearly a year and beaten up in prison.

Concern for human rights in Russia is long-standing in the US Jewish community. The influential American Jewish Committee (AJC) was established in New York in 1906 to advocate human rights issues concerning Russian Jews. Prominent Wall Street backers of the AJC who sought to pressure Russia helped finance the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.

The neoconservative movement grew out of the AJC's operations and the intellectual circles writing for Commentary magazine, its Cold War oriented publication established in 1946.

It is no secret that in recent years influential US circles have sought to not only pressure Russia but to isolate and block it through diplomatic, military, economic, political and information means. After WWII, US grand strategy assimilated the geopolitics of the British Empire's 19th century "Great Game" against Russia.

Today, US policy in Ukraine continues geopolitical confrontation with Russia escalating it to a dangerous level. 

The Ukraine crisis generated by the Western-sponsored regime change in Kiev provides the trans-Atlantic political and financial oligarchy a pretext to expand and to strengthen NATO. While many critics see NATO as outdated and unnecessary, it remains the primary mechanism to enforce the so-called "Western order" globally. 

Within the EU, however, there are deep divisions between those supporting an aggressive global role for NATO to confront Russia and other powers and those who reject provocative policies to isolate Russia.  

In stark contrast to the EU, Washington's politicians are nearly unanimous in their intention to confront Russia as the White House and Congress consistently demonstrate through legislation and operational policy.  

While the Ukraine Freedom Support Act can be repealed in the future, it remains to be seen how Obama and future presidents will implement it.

Irrespective of how it is implemented the provocative and unnecessary law may well prevent normal US-Russia relations for some time to come.

The author is an educator and former senior professional staff member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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