Poor Joe Biden. After decades in public life, he finally gets to become president just as the U.S. is facing some of its most serious problems in decades: a pandemic, an insurrection and, worst of all, climate change.
New heat records are being set every year, seas are rising and storms are increasing in strength and frequency. Killer wildfires are becoming an annual plague; droughts and floods are ravaging the land.
Now climate change is turning out to be a national security threat as well. The Defense Department says 79 U.S. military bases will be adversely affected by flooding and rising sea levels, and some may have to close. Overseas, the Pentagon warns, global warming will lead to political and economic instability, along with millions of climate refugees.
One country in particular is attracting the attention of security experts: Russia, though not as a future basket case. Instead, because it’s so big and lies far to the north, Russia will likely become the world’s agricultural and economic powerhouse.
The country’s vast petroleum and timber resources will be more easily accessible in a warmer world. Even now, Russia is capitalizing on the disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic to increase its economic and military presence up there.
Why is all that such a problem? Because Russia has been a bad actor on the world stage for years. It’s basically a corrupt dictatorship that wages cyber warfare on the U.S. and Europe, interferes in their elections, poisons dissidents on foreign soil and murders journalists at home, invades its neighbors and annexes their territory — as it did with Crimea after invading that Ukrainian territory in 2014. Lately it has been trying to split the U.S. from its European allies by offering them easy access to Russian oil and gas.
Why is Russia such a troublemaker? It’s partly our fault. After the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991, Russia was a shambles. The U.S. could have offered it a helping hand. Instead, the U.S. invited several former East Bloc countries to become members of NATO, expanding that anti-Soviet alliance right up to Russia’s borders. We even stationed ballistic missiles there.
Those needlessly provocative measures inflamed the enduring Russian fear of being encircled by the West. Relations with the U.S. went downhill.
Barack Obama tried a Russia “reset” in 2009, and it worked for a while. He and President Dmitri Medvedev signed a new strategic arms treaty. But when Vladimir Putin returned to office in 2012, he pretty much gave up on the U.S. Putin had another priority: restoring Soviet-era security and greatness to a shrunken Russia. And settling old scores.
Putin began subverting neighbors, annexing territory and, to boost his domestic popularity, demonizing the U.S. He used his friendship with our current president to sow disunity in NATO, undermine U.S. sanctions on Russia over its Crimea caper, and escape condemnation for hacking, election interference and other sins.
Putin runs Russia like a private fiefdom. He has no serious rivals and recently changed the law to extend his reign by 16 years. He’s going to be a problem for Biden, and the entire world, for quite a while.
Even though our current president cultivated closer ties with Moscow, resentments fester. The Pew international poll found that Russia’s popularity among Americans has plunged in recent years, as has U.S. standing there.
What to do about Russia? The U.S. should respond forcefully to the country’s recent hacking attacks and rebuild our fractured coalition of European allies. At the same time, we should deepen our existing contacts with Russia and find areas of common interest.
Like climate change. Global warming may help Russia in the long run, but Putin will be gone by then. So he might be interested in minimizing damage now.
There’s one more thing the U.S. should do: revive the Cold War. Not the part about containment and the Cuban Missile Crisis, but the soft-power element — the ambitious cultural and educational exchange program we launched in 1958 and is now largely dead. The Soviets sent us poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, composer Dmitri Kabalevsky and the Bolshoi ballet. We gave them Benny Goodman, the Boston Symphony and Motley Crue.
It was a fair fight, and we won. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
I happen to adore the Bolshoi. Also the Moscow Symphony, contemporary Russian science fiction and the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. So bring ’em on. We might learn something. And let’s send the Russians James Taylor, Billie Eilish, Colson Whitehead, Kehinde Wiley and “Hamilton.”
We’ll bring Putin to his knees. Hey, it worked the last time.