Post-Soviet Failures, Present-Day Realities

Two years since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine – and fully 10 years since the war actually began –  the US political-media establishment seems as far away from learning any lessons from the failure of its post-Soviet Russia policy as it has ever been.

The Biden administration’s policy toward Russia is simply the logical extension of that promulgated by the Clinton administration beginning in the 1990’s when, in the words of ACURA founder, Professor Stephen F. Cohen, it came to believe that the US, “can and should intervene in Russian internal affairs in order to convert (or transform) that nation into an American-style system at home and into a submissive junior partner of the United States abroad.”*

In years that followed, the spectacular failure of that policy engendered a deep ambivalence, which, over time, curdled into a bitterness and ultimately into a barely (if at all) concealed hatred on the part of the American foreign policy establishment not only toward Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, but towards all things Russian. 

The myopia that marked the Russia policy of the Clinton and late Obama years never went away – indeed, it has helped lead us to where we are today.

 Ukraine is now destroyed. It is on its way toward becoming a dysfunctional satellite state of the European Union – one shorn of its industrial base, its agricultural heartland, its mining industry, and possibly, within a year’s time, its Back Sea ports. Still more, recent estimates place Ukrainian battlefield casualties (wounded and dead) at half a million. Its prewar population of 43 million has shrunk to some 29 million.  By early January, Ukraine was losing roughly 30,000 soldiers a month, this according to former Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko.  The politicians and armchair generals (in and out of uniform) who thought it the height of wisdom to sacrifice tens if not hundreds of thousands of young Ukrainians in this most unnecessary and avoidable of wars, should, but of course will not, take their share of the blame for the catastrophe.

Recently, a top American diplomat stated his belief that “Ukraine will be stronger by the end of 2024 and in a better position to determine its future.”**  Sentiments such as these indicate, if nothing else, that the Biden administration has zero plans to confront reality in the coming year.  And so, the war will continue, further devastating Ukraine and squandering its chances for a successful post-war recovery.


*Stephen F. Cohen, Testimony on US Policy toward Russia to the US Senate Committee of Appropriations, January 24, 1994.

**James O’Brien, US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, Remarks to the German Marshall Fund, January 31, 2024

Reprinted with permission from the American Committee for US-Russia Accord.

James W. Carden is a columnist and former adviser to the US-Russia Bilateral Presidential Commission at the U.S. Department of State. His articles and essays have appeared in a wide variety of publications including The Nation, The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, The Spectator, UnHerd, The National Interest, Quartz, The Los Angeles Times, and American Affairs.