Letter From the Editors

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” proclaimed President Reagan to a jubilant crowd in front of the Brandenburg Gate on June 12, 1987. As we know, the Berlin Wall came down just over two years later, paving the way for German reunification and, ultimately, the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Now, with a conflict continuing to simmer on Russia’s border with Ukraine and an acute crisis brewing between NATO and Russia, it feels like the world is just a few short steps away from erecting a new wall.

Although speculation about a major war between Russia and Ukraine is running rampant in the Western media, the Russian press appears to be more tempered in its assessment of the situation. In an article for Republic.ru, Aleksandr Golts explains that if the Kremlin really wanted a war, it could launch hostilities at any moment, without any further buildup of troops. As he sees it, limited operations could easily rout Ukrainian forces in the east. Instead, it’s likely that Putin is amassing troops to gain some leverage with the West. This worked for him last spring, when he was rewarded with a summit after sending more troops to the border.

All machinations aside, though, the concentration of Russian troops near eastern Ukraine has had very real consequences in terms of the kind of weaponry being brought into the area. Leaks that the West was dispatching antitank and air defense weapons systems, and even military advisers to Ukraine have instead put Russia on the defensive, prompting Security Council Secretary Patrushev to declare that “Russia has never shown hostility toward any state, let alone Ukraine, which is inhabited by people bound to us by common blood, language and history. There are no unreasonable movements of Russian troops or unscheduled exercises near the border with Ukraine.”

Indeed, Russia is accusing NATO of crossing a red line in its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. In fact, it is insisting that the US and its allies rule out NATO’s further enlargement to the east, citing an oral agreement to that effect. However, as Aleksandr Mineyev explains, when Bush told Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east, he meant that NATO would not move from West Germany into East Germany. At the time, the East European countries within the Soviet orbit were still members of the Warsaw Pact and would not have been eligible to join NATO. For its part, NATO maintains that it does not invite sovereign states to join, but instead accepts them as they meet certain criteria.

Be that as it may, Sergei Lavrov issued the following stern statement at an OSCE meeting of foreign ministers: “The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the end of the cold war and the end of the struggle between two systems. Now, new walls are being erected by those who call themselves ‘civilized democracies’ and consider it their mission to contain ‘authoritarian regimes’ ”

The only place where walls seem to be coming down is within the EaEU, a loose economic union of post-Soviet states. According to Russian Prime Minister Mishustin, the union has been weathering the pandemic fairly well and has established cooperation in many areas. But he did caution that the pace of progress cannot be maintained without “removing barriers to the movement of goods, services, investment and labor.” This includes creating a single digital space, developing transport corridors running from China to Western Europe, and forming a greater Eurasian alliance.

Despite this bright sign of collaboration and partnership, some still feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket. However, we can all rest easy knowing that Putin is at the helm. As he said at a VTB Capital investment forum, “The fact that I have the right to run for another term in itself keeps the situation in Russia stable.” Would that this were true, but, alas, as the saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too.