Having adversarial relations with the “land of the Russ,” which stretches throughout Europe and Asia for nine time zones, which from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin has played a pivotal role in the balance of power in Europe and Asia, and which currently fosters a new political reality in the Middle East, cannot possibly serve in the best interests of the United States.
While testifying in court, I was asked by my lawyer, “Mr. Markovsky, if you knew that your friends were dishonest, would you do business with them?” “Of course I would,” I said. “Doing business internationally, one has to cozy up to all sorts of sleazy characters, and some of them would make the Sopranos look like Mother Teresa.” In business, just as in politics, there are no friends, only interests.
So, when Rex Tillerson is criticized for being a friend of Russia and being able to advance his company’s interests in a country that critics consider a strategic adversary, they are missing the point. It does not take much talent to negotiate with an interlocutor that shares your values and experiences, but making successful deals with those who adhere to different moral standards is a hallmark of professional skills and diplomatic abilities. In addition to negotiating skills, Tillerson obviously possesses a good understanding of the Russian mentality.
In Russia, decisions are often determined not by objective factors but rather by personal relationships. Back in the early 1990s, negotiating my first deal, I was stopped in my tracks by the deputy energy minister who said, “Mr. Markovsky, before we work with you we have to like you.”
Tillerson is way ahead of the curve. The Washington Post, no special friend of Donald Trump, recently wrote that Tillerson is “a businessman who has some of the most deep and long-standing ties to the Russian political and business elite of any American.” In the kingdom of crooked mirrors of the Washington Post, business relationships are a liability, but in the real world President Putin would not keep this man waiting for three hours the way he made Secretary of State John Kerry wait before receiving him. The Russians “like” him, and are ready for good relations, which is precisely what Tillerson’s critics, driven by their anti-Russian compulsion, so adamantly reject.
Anti-Russian sentiment will play out during the confirmation hearings. The senators who see the fundamental aim of American foreign policy toward Russia as perpetual confrontation of evil are prepared to scrutinize Tillerson for his consistent opposition to sanctions against Russia. They view the sanctions as an effective mechanism to force Moscow to concede on the issues of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine.
An astute businessman and diplomat, Tillerson is intimately familiar with Russia and its history, and, unlike his critics, recognizes the difference between desirable and attainable. After traveling the anguished road of sanctions for two and a half years it has become obvious that Crimea is a fait accompli; even if sanctions are kept in place for the next hundred years, they will not weaken Moscow’s resolve. Since the 18th century, when Russia wrestled Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, Crimea has universally been perceived by Russians as an inextricable part of their patrimony; every square inch of Sevastopol’s land is soaked with Russian blood spilled in numerous wars for this vitally strategic corner of Russia. This is the Russian heritage; it is Leningrad on the Black Sea. Furthermore, while Putin’s critics see the annexation of Crimea as a legal issue, for Putin it is a geopolitical issue; if there is anything worth the Russians going to war over, it is Crimea.
The continuing war in Eastern Ukraine only compounds the strategic weakness of this approach. The roots of the conflict are similar to those in the other European countries created by force or administrative procedure, such as Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, where people of different religions, customs, and historical backgrounds were forced to tolerate a mélange of incompatibilities.
Putin did not incite the conflict, but if he stayed away from Eastern Ukraine while Kiev was committing genocide on the Russian population, turning Donetsk, Lugansk, and Gorlovka into Aleppos, his standing in Russia would crumble overnight. Since Western governments turned a blind eye to the atrocities, Russians see the American position on sanctions as inconsistent, irrational, and dishonest.
Although at this juncture restoration of the status quo ante has been vitiated by rising hatred on both sides of the conflict, a resolution of this explosive situation is NOT beyond the capacity of diplomacy.
In a nutshell, Kiev enjoys international support but lacks the means to preserve Ukraine as a unitary state. Putin, on the other hand, enjoys overwhelming domestic support for acquisition of Eastern Ukraine but lacks the means to rebuild the devastated cities and the Eastern Ukraine economy.
Considering that in Russia good personal relations are a prerequisite for effective diplomacy, what proved to be unworkable for the Obama administration should be attainable for Tillerson. By accepting reality and legitimizing the de facto partition of Ukraine, which the author confidently predicted three years ago in the posts Crimea, Ukraine, and the Agony of Impotence Parts I and II, Russia and the United States would be in a position to negotiate a palatable resolution.
There is no geopolitical rationale for the continuation of punitive sanctions that are incompatible with Russian dignity and endurance. The history of Russia is a history of suffering: Russians are used to adversity; no matter how bad the situation may be, there were times when they had it worse.
Indeed, when the Germans, who led the imposition of current sanctions, imposed the ultimate sanctions on the city of Leningrad during the Second World War, a million Russians perished during nine hundred days of siege, but the city did not surrender and the war ended with the red flag flying high over the Reichstag, just as a century and a half earlier Russians defeated Napoleon and conquered Paris. Those are testaments to Russian stoic endurance and a reminder to those who suffer from historical amnesia.
Dealing with absolutes, those who promulgate adversarial relations with Russia have lost their grip on reality and refuse to accept that Russia is not an ascendant of the Soviet Union. Though it is in a geopolitical competition with the United States, unlike with the Soviet Union, the competition is not ideological: Russia is not aspiring to plant the red flag over the globe. Although it is naïve to expect an incipient friendship, Russia needs to be brought into the community of nations just as was done with Germany and Japan after their defeat in the Second World War and dealt with in terms of moral persuasion and commonality of national interests.
Trump, who sees no virtue in perpetual antagonism between Russia and the United States, has picked the perfect person as his choice for secretary of state.
Alexander G.. Markovsky (www.alexmarkovsky.com), author of “Anatomy of a Bolshevik” and “Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It,” was born in the Soviet Union and now lives in Houston, Tex. He holds degrees in economics and political science from the University of Marxism-Leninism. He is a contributor to FamilySecurityMatters.org and his work also appears on New York Daily News, RedState.com, Israpundit.com and WorldNetDaily.com.