How the international media covered the Russo-Ukrainian war, August 8

Sasha Sverdlova

This time, there is only one material in the review — however, it is thorough and in many respects significant. Alexander Widneman, former head of the European division of the US National Security Council, urges America to stop "tiptoeing" around Russia in a column on Foreign Affairs.

For decades, America has put Russia at the center of its Eastern Europe policy — because of illusory hopes for good relations with the Kremlin and the hope of avoiding another cold war, the author writes. Even after the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, key figures in the US are focused on Moscow, not Kyiv, while they should prioritize the real Ukraine, not the fictional image of Russia. Windman analyzes the history of the US position on Russian-Ukrainian relations, which was formed in 1989 during a secret meeting in the White House, where the priorities of the United States in the event of the collapse of the Soviet Union were discussed. The formation of new nuclear states, the loss of nuclear weapons or their appearance on the black market, as well as civil wars in the "new" post-Soviet countries were identified as the main threats. To reduce these risks, the Americans decided to act together with Russia. In the summer of 1991, US President George Bush Sr. gave an infamous speech in Kyiv, which went down in history as "Kyiv Cutlet" (a play on words, in English the name of the dish sounds like "Kyiv Coward"). In the speech, Bush actually warned Ukraine against regaining independence and warned about the "dangers of suicidal nationalism", ignoring the Ukrainiansʼ right to self-determination.

In those years, Vindman writes, only a small minority in the White House believed that it was necessary to help strengthen independent Ukraine, which should become a bulwark against Russian revanchism. Most believed that the United States could turn Russia into a stable ally. This approach has persisted for decades, and even recently, Joe Bidenʼs administration focused its analysis of the risks of the Russian-Ukrainian war on the consequences for the Russian Federation, and not for Ukraine, Windman writes. If the USA had seen in time that Ukraine itself is a promising engine of democratization in the region, the security guarantees of Ukraine would have been firmer than in the Budapest Memorandum. If the US had supported Viktor Yushchenkoʼs reforms after the Orange Revolution, Yanukovych might not have won the 2010 election, and the Revolution of Dignity, which left Ukraine vulnerable to Russian invasion, might not have been necessary. Perhaps then Crimea would not have been annexed, the occupation of Donbas and, ultimately, a full-scale invasion would not have begun, the author thinks. Fears of a political response from Moscow have always prevented closer relations with Kyiv.

The world did not understand Ukraine for a long time, and researchers who studied the USSR were retrained as "Russianists", while Ukraine remained in the shadow of its privileged neighbor. Vindman, who worked in the National Security Council in 2018-2020, writes that even then very few officials had the necessary knowledge about Ukraine. This trend continues to this day: the National Security Council makes decisions, fearing escalation from Moscow and hoping to restore relations one day. It is difficult to get rid of old habits, the author writes, but it should be done as soon as possible. President Bidenʼs administration has begun to talk about the need for Ukrainian victory on the battlefield, but so far words have not matched actions. The National Security Council is blocking or delaying additional aid, and the bureaucracy of the Ministry of Defense is creating obstacles to supplies, Windman believes. In addition to increasing the amount and types of aid, the author suggests several other steps the White House should take. The Biden administration should lead the work to create logistics and supply centers closer to the eastern and southern fronts, the US should continue to work to fully unblock grain exports.

Moving away from a Russia-centric approach is the best way to protect US interests, Vindman summarizes. The idea of reviving democracy, which became the basis of President Bidenʼs domestic and foreign policy, will be best reflected in the triumph of democracy in Ukraine. But to achieve it, America must stop thinking about "normalizing relations with post-Putin Russia."