Ambassador vanden Heuvel on Russia and Ukraine

William J. vanden Heuvel (Ambassador to the United Nations, 1979-1981; Ambassador to the United Nations European Office (Geneva), 1977-1979)


In the spirit of the Olympics, the United States had the opportunity to salute the magnificent production of the opening night ceremonies.  Clearly it was a matter of Russian pride to present itself to the world in a way that reflected the greatness of its history.  Instead we have chosen to reply as though the Cold War were still underway.  Such an attitude is shortsighted and destructive.  Whatever our abhorrence of civil rights and civil liberties in Russia, our national interests compels us to develop a pragmatic working relationship with President Putin and with Russia if we are to have any hope of bringing an end to the senseless brutality of the Syrian civil war and an agreement with Iran that will assure the world that atomic weapons will not be developed by them.  The Sochi Olympics are a small but lost opportunity for us to advance our interest regarding the larger problems of war and peace.  The United States will soon be appointing a new Ambassador to Russia.  We have a Secretary of State who has extraordinary knowledge of the trouble points of our world – and John Kerry also has an effective working relationship with Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia.  These two working together, understanding of the purposes of diplomacy, can advance an agenda that President Obama and President Putin should discuss in advancing the possibilities of peace.

Regarding the Ukraine, former Ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock, has written: “Association with the EU will not automatically or even easily solve Ukraine’s problems.” As Ambassador Matlock has stated: The Ukraine will never be free, prosperous and democratic unless it has friendly relations with Russia.  The political divisions in the Ukraine are profound.  Its economic needs are desperate.  Resolution of these problems is not going to be advanced by making the Ukraine a pawn in the East/West struggle.  The United States cannot act independently of the European Union in advancing the cause of the Ukraine.  Together with the EU, we should be able to develop an approach that does not threaten Russia but at the same time opens to the Ukraine the possibilities of strong and enduring ties to the West and to America.


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