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Dunsmore: Cold War Revisited

There is no way to sugar coat it. An angry Russian President Vladimir Putin has blatantly annexed a portion of Ukraine, contrary to International Law. The United States and the European Union condemned this action and imposed some punitive economic sanctions on a few key Russian higher-ups. More serious ones are likely coming, especially if Putin moves against Ukraine’s predominantly ethnic Russian eastern region, which is quite possible. There are already troubling signs that this area is being caught up in a new Russian inspired nationalistic fervor- perhaps as a prelude to another Russian take-over.

The situation is very serious – it’s the most significant breach in East-West relations since the end of the Cold War. And it could well become worse.

Amidst this bleak picture, the blame game in this country is gaining momentum. Senator John McCain has been leading the charge for many Republican members of Congress, almost daily blaming the crisis on President Barack Obama and his quote “weak and feckless foreign policy.” Former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney has piled on, chiding the president for his lack of leadership. Such partisanship is not helpful but is to be expected.

But there are other voices that deserve serious attention. As the National Security Council’s Russian specialist, Jack Matlock coached and helped guide President Ronald Reagan through his summits with Soviet Leader Mikael Gorbachev. Then as U.S. Ambassador to Moscow with unprecedented access to the Soviets, he helped Reagan and President George H.W. Bush negotiate the end of the Cold War and the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union. He wrote the definitive book on the subject: “Reagan and Gorbachev- How the Cold War Ended.”

Matlock’s credentials give high credibility to his column on Ukraine in the Washington Post this past week – an analysis which is key to a more complete understanding of the current crisis.

These are some of Matlock’s central points.

Gorbachev maintained, “The end of the Cold War is our common victory.” Yet the United States insisted on treating Russia as the loser.

President Bill Clinton initiated bombing Russian ally Serbia, and encouraged the expansion of NATO to include Warsaw Pact Countries - contrary to American promises it would not take advantage of the Soviet retreat from Eastern Europe.

Putin was the first foreign leader to call the U.S. to offer support after 9/11. He helped when America invaded Afghanistan, and closed Russian bases in Cuba and Vietnam.

And what, Matlock asks, did he get in return from President George W. Bush? quote “The diplomatic equivalent of swift kicks to the groin: further expansion of NATO in the Baltics and the Balkans and plans for American bases there, withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, the invasion of Iraq... and talk of taking Georgia and Ukraine into NATO” unquote.

Matlock does not suggest that Putin is blameless in the current standoff. But his analysis of how this crisis evolved, must be included in any discussions on how best to avoid a real Cold War II.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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