‘Russia and US far too powerful, cooperation has to be possible’

Troops from the U.S. Army's 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team participate at the NATO-led exercise "Orzel Alert" held together with Canada's 3rd Battalion and Princess Patricia's Light Infantry, and Poland's 6th Airborne Brigade in Bledowska Desert in Chechlo, near Olkusz, south Poland May 5, 2014. (Reuters/Kacper Pempel)
Neither Russia, nor the US are determined to have a conflict, but there are ‘hotheads and fanatics’ which would like to see tension on both sides, and that has to be avoided, Jeffrey Sommers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee told RT’s In the Now.

RT:Eastern Europe and the Baltic States might host NATO’s heavy weaponry and up to 5,000 US troops. Poland and Lithuania have confirmed they are officially discussing storing American arms in the countries. Why the build up?

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Jeffery Sommers: Of course, there is some significant pressure that’s emanating from both Poland and the Baltic States for the US to have an increasing commitment with NATO troops on their respective territories. In some measure, it is actually a quite measured response. In other words, I don’t think we should be too alarmed by this. On one level, it’s rather unfortunate that the US didn’t honor its verbal commitment to not expand NATO beyond the original positioning of troops in Germany, as the German Democratic Republic was brought into NATO with the unification of Germany in 1990. Now that we do have these additional countries such as Poland and the Baltic States within NATO, I think that this is a fairly measured response.

The number of troops, roughly we’re talking about 5,000 troops - is not enough to pose any threat to Russia, but instead it’s kind of a reprise of the mutual assured destruction policies of the Cold War: if Russia was ever to intervene the Baltic States, something which I think is extremely unlikely, then of course that would trigger a greater US response given that it has troops there. So I can see some reason for concerns here, but at the same time we should remain calm.

RT:With that said though, how would NATO react if say Russia drilled in Belarus, closer to NATO’s border?

JS: Histrionically... to say the least, in other words, there would probably be an overreaction, there would be a plenty of hyperbolic responses in the US media, and it would be very exaggerated in terms of its actual importance. There is no doubt that the US media would overplay the significance of that kind of response.

But it’s important to try and return to the spirit of some kind of accommodation, and of negotiations that we saw when John Kerry visited Sochi. I’m hoping that that spirit will prevail as we move forward despite the fact that as Vladimir Putin himself has said of people on his own side, not to mention on the side of the US, that we have hotheads and fanatics that seem to want to increase tensions in terms of this conflict that has emerged between our two respective countries.

RT:You’ve said that you don’t think this latest push in Eastern Europe is a threat to Russia. Is Russia a threat to NATO?

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JS: I don’t think Russia is a threat to NATO at all, and that’s what needs to be recognized. Vladimir Putin has been very, very careful to assure the West that this is not a reprise of Soviet expansionism that we see on the part of Russia’s military buildup, which from its perspective is to protect its interest, and to protect itself against what it sees as a reprise of the always contingent nature of history. In other words, we never know what changes will be in store in the future. And of course since it has a history of having been invaded with amazing and just impressively large losses to its country and people, it is very sensitive to military buildups that are close to its borders - that is entirely understandable; as is it’s understandable that the people of the Baltic States are very sensitive to any moves to buildup Russia’s military...

I was very pleased when Vladimir Putin mentioned in his talk some several weeks back when he spoke to the nation in his annual program that was when he addresses questions from the Russian public in which one person mentioned to him: “Why are these people in the former Warsaw Pact nations and former Soviet republics so hostile to Russia?” And Vladimir Putin, I think to his credit, rejoined that question with a very sensible answer: “You don’t understand, these are people who had an alien and undesired system that was imposed upon them during the Soviet period.” And even while Russia may pose no threat to them today, it is that history which guides their perceptions, and there are sometimes overreactions to Russia’s present actions.

RT:Is cooperation between Russia and the alliance a distant naïve sentiment? Is it ever going to be possible?

JS: It has to be possible, because Russia is far too powerful; the US is far too powerful. They have to find some way of cooperating. I think again, to Vladimir Putin’s credit, he has tried to contain... “hotheads and the fanatics” on his side; and I think that President Barack Obama … is trying to do the same on his side. So I’m hoping that cooler heads will prevail and we can find a way of reaching an accommodation and a way of understanding that the normative values that each side has may not be ones that they can expect the other side to possess, but that they can find some way of working with each other. I don’t think either side is determined to have a conflict with each other in terms of their leadership that said, on both sides there are very influential parties which would like to see increased tensions, and that is what has to be avoided.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.