Soviet-era’s last US envoy to Moscow comments on war atrocities accusations against Russia
Moral outrage over images of apparent war atrocities in Bucha, Ukraine is understandable, but the calls to turn Russia into a pariah state are ill-advised, a former US ambassador to the Soviet Union warned on Monday, during an appearance on CNN.
Jack Matlock held various positions during the height of the Cold War and was Washington’s representative to the USSR in the final years of the communist powerhouse. The veteran diplomat warned CNN audiences that the drive to further antagonize Russia, which prevails in the West, is ill-advised, especially since it’s driven by emotions rather than reason.
“I share many of these emotions, but to the idea that we can make a major nuclear weapon state a pariah, that by our actions we actually are destroying those elements in that society that could bring a positive change in the future. I think that is not wise,” he said.
Matlock was referring to the moral outrage that has been dominating the West’s coverage of the Ukrainian crisis since Kiev accused Russian troops of war crimes. The allegations focus on Bucha, a small town northwest of Kiev from which Russian troops withdrew last week. Days after the withdrawal, images of apparent atrocities targeting its civilian population started pouring in from Bucha.
Ukrainian officials claimed these were evidence that Moscow was pursuing genocide of the Ukrainian people. Russia has denied any responsibility for what appeared in the images and said that Kiev was manipulating public opinion with staged scenes of brutality.
The CNN segment, in which Matlock was one of the experts providing their opinion, put the blame for the civilian deaths squarely on Russia. “Of course, there is no one else who could have committed these atrocities,” an EU spokesperson quoted by the news network said. Host Ana Cabrera said images from Bucha were particularly horrific because the alleged crimes were committed not by “some rogue actor like the Taliban or a terror group like ISIS or al Qaeda,” but by a UN nation.
Matlock said that feeling outrage over what he called “horrors of war” was a normal human reaction, but suggested that the only way to end them was to negotiate a path towards deescalation.
“To think that the world would benefit from making Russia, a nuclear power equivalent to the United States, a pariah, I think, does not really represent our interests in the future. I fear a world of that sort,” he said.
Opposing his view was Brian Klaas, associate professor of global politics at University College of London, who argued that Russia has made a pariah of itself by committing war crimes in Ukraine. He believes that the killings of civilians in Bucha were “orchestrated” by senior Russian leadership.
“There’s no way that you could have such atrocities without at least the knowledge of senior officials in the Russian military,” he said, “There’s no way that you could have such atrocities without at least the knowledge of senior officials in the Russian military,” he said. He offered no explanation for why Russian officers would make a display of brutality, an action that would not appear to benefit Russia’s objectives.
Matlock said he was skeptical of the idea. “We do not know for sure exactly what happened with these apparent atrocities. And, certainly, we don’t know that they were ordered from Moscow,” he also pointed out.
The veteran diplomat reiterated his long-held position, that NATO’s expansion in Europe and the gradual rising of tensions between Western powers and Moscow, which escalated into a shooting war in Ukraine this year, were an avoidable mistake of US foreign policy.
Klaas dismissed the notion, stating that “the characterization that this is somehow our fault [was] wildly wrong.”
Moscow attacked its neighbor in late February, following Ukraine’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements of 2014, and Russia’s eventual recognition of the Donbass republics in Donetsk and Lugansk. The German- and French-brokered protocols had been designed to regularize the status of those regions within the Ukrainian state.
Russia is demanding that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it had planning to retake the two secessionist regions by force.