On the Edge of the Abyss

Former Sen. Sam Nunn coined the phrase “sleepwalking into nuclear catastrophe” long before the current crisis. Many other prominent American foreign policy experts agreed and presented ideas on how to avoid the looming disaster. The most important of them was the acceptance of the reality that the short era of unipolar world under U.S. leadership has ended and it is the time to enter into negotiations with other global powers, including Russia and China, to build the new world’s security architecture. As the first step, NATO would be required to stop its Eastern expansion, but the US foreign policy establishment was not prepared to step down from its hegemonic throne.

This is despite the wishes of the American people who want the government to concentrate on their basic needs rather than continue their endless wars. According to a new poll, only 26% of Americans want the US to play a major role in the Ukrainian conflict.

There was another way as we saw in late 1991 when about 300 members of the Young Presidents Organization descended on Moscow to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Kremlin magnificent halls with the Russian government and intellectual elites. US Ambassador James Collins was the guest of honor sitting at the head table with Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov and speaker of the Parliament.

The new era has arrived. America’s popularity was unprecedented with over 90% positive ratings. Joint U.S.-Russian business ventures have mushroomed over the country. KGB opened its archives and even disclosed the sites of their listening devices at the US Embassy.

On a personal note, I gave up my math/physics teaching positions at the American and Long Island universities and opened the American University in Moscow (AUM) to bring US academics to teach Russian youth about advantages of freedom, democracy, and free market economics.

Actually, AUM started its activities even earlier back in 1990, and we were housed initially at the Moscow State University (MSU) where we were given a full floor and refurbished rooms in the dorms for the visiting American professors. MSU administration also suggested using the office of the university’s Communist Party where we displayed a huge American flag on its walls. Vice President Dan Quayle sent a nice letter on this occasion to congratulate me and sent best wishes from President George H.W. Bush.

Mr. Popov pledged to contribute to AUM the impressive building in downtown Moscow formerly occupied by the Communist Party school as well as a huge estate in the outskirts of Moscow which was used as country homes (dachas) for the Soviet leaders, including Leonid Brezhnev.

Running a full-scale university required a substantial budget. We relied mainly on private contributions, most generously from Robert Kriebel, the chemist who invented super glue and supporter of many conservative causes including Heritage and Free Congress Foundations whose President and CEO Paul Weyrich was a prominent Republican leader and a good friend of mine. Weyrich became a well-known advocate for the policy of transition from U.S.-Soviet confrontation to U.S.-Russia alliance. He liked the AUM idea and invited Mr. Popov to Washington for meetings many powerful folks, including the vice president, Senate and House majority and minority leaders, and secretaries of state and treasury. All pledged support to the university. Unfortunately, the Congressional wheels moved slowly until Bush lost the election to Democrat Bill Clinton and the whole process of U.S.-Russia relations went south to include AUM financing.

The words coming from Mr. Clinton’s mouth were nice, but the deeds were quite contrary. Mr. Clinton called Russian President Boris Yeltsin his best friend and even helped him to get reelected in 1996 (speaking about meddling in foreign elections), but in reality on economic and security issues Washington took advantage of Russia‘s weakness totally ignoring her interests. There is no room to describe all the details of this miscalculated policy which eventually brought us to the current crisis. The most dramatic mistake was the NATO Eastern expansion that started in 1998 and continues until now with no end in sight.

It is sad to see all Weyrich’s, my, and many others dreams of U.S.-Russia relations moving from confrontation to alliance evaporate and now we found ourselves on the brink of war, maybe even the previously unthinkable nuclear war instead of enjoying mutually beneficial cooperation available in many fields.

To add insult to injury, my AUM office at the Russia House in the Dupont Circle area and other rooms in this building (owned by US veteran Aaron McGovern and Lithuanian émigré Arturas Vorobjovas) were desecrated last week, with broken windows, and obscenity posters displayed on the walls.

The Russian flag, which was hung on the building by the Mayor of Moscow along with the American flag by Paul Weyrich, has been torn down. Police qualified this as a hate crime, but no criminals have been apprehended so far.

Nobel Peace Laureate Andrei Sakharov also advocated U.S.-Russia friendship and cooperation. His bust is located in front of the building, and one wonders what he would say looking at this outrage.

The current crisis could have been avoided with one word from President Biden that Ukraine’s entrance to NATO is no longer on the books, but he does not have the courage to say it so now the Ukraine crisis is turning into a nuclear one.

The only thing left for us is to pray for peace.

Edward Lozansky is president of the American University in Moscow. Reprinted from the Washington Times with permission from the author.