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Cafe Society to discuss U.S. policy towards Russia

By Staff | Jan 6, 2017

The Cafe Society will discuss our relations with Russia at its next session on Jan. 10.

To an unusual extent our old nemesis Russia — has recently become a highly visible player in U.S. domestic politics, as well as the traditional foreign affairs arena. President Putin’s star has been rising following his unchecked move into the Ukraine and more recent strategic victory outmaneuvering us in Syria and thereby securing a long- coveted foothold in the Middle East.

To complicate matters, President-Elect Trump on one hand has been singing Putin’s praises as someone he can respectfully deal with, while “saber rattling” with the other. Still worse, even while still in the transition phase Trump is making overt assertions about intended changes in our industrial base, strategic forces and relations with allies that could have serious consequences, particularly, if mis-read by the Russians.

We will effectively have until Jan. 20 two Heads of State/ Commanders-in-Chief who are intentionally working at cross-purposes.

What makes it particularly troubling is that the essential foundation of confidence building measures that we have built up since the end of the Cold War between our two governments and allied powers will be irreparably eroded.

This comes at a time when the image of an ascending and invincible Russian is simply a political illusion. Putin is walking a tight rope dealing with far worse social, economic and political problems than we have to contend with here at home. Many of the anticipated results of new policy initiatives in critical areas such as trade and energy, population movements, arms control, the environment, China, and of course, terrorism may deprive us of the opportunity to work cooperatively with the Russians where there are identifiable mutual interests.

Cafe Society discussions are held from 8:30 to 10 a.m. each Tuesday morning in the Rumsey Room of the Shepherd University (SU) Student Center. They are an integral part of the SU Life Long Learning Program and are intended to facilitate a dialog on current issues between the students and older members of our community. There are no fees or registration requirements

Cafe Society facilitator, Mike Austin explained. “The old adage that “politics makes for strange bedfellows” seems apt as we see Mr. Trump claiming a special relation with Putin in order to bolster his credentials as a consummate and confident international player. He will find that there are few viable truly bi-lateral relationships that can function independently in the international arena, even if, the two of them agree on some specific issue.

“There will be few cases where they can ignore the broader international community, particularly regulations of the UN and its subordinate agencies and the E.U. which heavily influence movements of funds, intellectual property rights, and technology transfer. And they may need each other’s clout to deal with particular issues such as with the Saudis or OPEC.

“Since 1991 a complex series of coordinating and consultation mechanism have evolved between Russia and NATO military authorities and they are resilient because mature political leaders on both sides understand and appreciate their value. For example: the “Incidents at Sea Agreement” that we have made to work effectively with the Russians even under the worst Cold War circumstances, may be an important approach to dealing with a resurgent China in the South China Sea. Since the early days of World War II we have had a love-hate relationship with the Russians but there is a vast amount of shared insight that we can draw upon as we deal with friction between the Christian and Islamic worlds, commodity shortages or imbalances, growing environmental problems, the risks of both civil and military nuclear proliferation, competing territorial land, air and sea claims, the detritus of the colonial era, pandemics and demands of emergent third-world nations.”

Austin concluded by saying, “We should not lose sight of the vast amount of experience that the Russians have had in dealing with a large country similar to ours with massive infrastructure problems, and the need to move or manage the interaction of people, natural resources (particularly water) and commodities. In my dealing with Russian civil and military authorities I have found them to be professional and pragmatic, willing to compromise when necessary to achieve shared objectives.”