Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Cuba and Ukraine: Personal Reflections; Jeffrey Sachs op ed

 U.S. Cuba  :: Russia Ukraine 

My evolving thoughts

Petition to President Putin and President Biden   3/25/22


Letter to Secretary of State Blinken

Dear Secretary Blinken,

In your press conference in Israel with the Foreign Minister you said, "As you know, and as you’ve heard us say repeatedly, we do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter."

While I share President Biden's moral outrage that President Putin has disqualified himself from leadership in the modern world, I understand and agree with your official statement about regime change.  Specifically of course, "regime change" is the primary Russian objective in Ukraine and a fundamental reason for rejection of its invasion by international opinion, including by most countries that abstained on the United Nations’ resolutions.

However, your words are empty if they are not consistent.  Until the Obama Administration, regime change was an explicit US objective with Cuba.  The Trump Administration publicly resuscitated the bankrupt Monroe Doctrine and the attendant goal of regime change for both Cuba and Venezuela.  As far as I know, the Biden Administration has done nothing to change that in policy or in practice. 

The core goal of our unilateral embargo is and has always been regime change.  The Trump/Pompeo/Bolton/Claver-Carone and, regrettably now, the Biden/Blinken/Sullivan/Gonzalez restrictions on remittances, travel, conferences, hotel use, etc. are intentional instruments for regime change, as are USAID's purported democracy programs.

Even if the US dislikes the regimes in Havana and Caracas and their political orientations as much or more than Russia dislikes the regime in Kyiv and its political orientation, neither country is justified by geography or by relative power to overthrow them.

As I have written before, I believe the path to peace in Ukraine could lie through Cuba.  The dilemma the Biden Administration faces is how to give President Putin a face saving partial "win" without rewarding him with any territory in Ukraine, and certainly with no gain in the power Russia held before its invasion began.

One way that can happen is through a global rebalance.  A key element in the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a trade-off.  Russia withdrew its missiles from Cuba in return for the US withdrawing its missiles from Turkey (and, some report, from Italy). 

In return for Russia respecting Ukraine's sovereignty (i.e. withdrawing troops), the US should respect Cuba's (i.e. immediately restoring Obama's openings and pledging to end the embargo quickly).  An additional step could link Russia ending claims on the Donbas with the US ending claims on the Guantanamo base and prison.

As over the top as these actions may seem, they really are no more than application of the worthy values you have voiced several times including during your appearance with EU High Representative Josep Borrell :

"the principle that one country can’t dictate to another the choices that its citizens would make about their future; the principle that we’re past the time of spheres of influence where one country subjugates its neighbors to its will"

By linking the end of the embargo to peace in Ukraine, the Biden Administration can move beyond the counterproductive domestic political logjam.  It can also argue honestly that ending the embargo is the most effective way to frustrate strategically Russia's efforts to increase its influence and presence in Cuba.


John McAuliff 

Fund for Reconciliation and Development


Letter to the White House   3/24/22

Dear Mr. President,

Your press conference today after the NATO meeting was exceptional, clearly delineating our united resistance to illegal and horrific Russian aggression in Ukraine.

 The dilemma you face is how to give President Putin a face saving "victory" without rewarding him with any territorial gains in Ukraine, certainly no advantage over Russia's situation before its invasion began.

Perhaps that can happen through a global balance.  As you know, a key element in the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis was a trade-off.  The US would withdraw its missiles from Turkey (and, some report, from Italy) if Russia withdrew its missiles from Cuba. 

 In return for Russia respecting Ukraine's sovereignty (i.e. withdrawing troops), the US should respect Cuba's (i.e. immediately restoring Obama's openings and pledging to end the embargo).  An additional step could link Russia ending claims on the Donbas with the US ending claims on Guantanamo base and prison.

As over the top as these steps may seem, they really are no more than consistent application of worthy values voiced by Secretary Blinken several times in the last few weeks:

 "the principle that one country can’t dictate to another the choices that its citizens would make about their future; the principle that we’re past the time of spheres of influence where one country subjugates its neighbors to its will"

 You can also argue honestly that ending the embargo is the most effective way to frustrate Russian efforts to increase their influence and presence in Cuba.


 John McAuliff


Unpublished letter to the New York Times     3/16/22

To the Editor,

It does not diminish my abhorrence and anger at Russia's destruction of Ukraine to recall that nineteen years ago I felt the same about shock and awe delivered by the US invasion of Iraq.

My tears for the deaths and refugee travail of countless Ukrainians are more powerful because they link to the emotions I felt fifty years ago at similar images from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

President Zelensky in his own words embodies the memorable sentiment of Ho Chi Minh, "Nothing is more precious than independence and freedom."

When this is over and peace returns, we will face the challenge of reconstruction of Ukraine, return of its people to their homes and reconciliation with Russia. 

The people of Indochina and Iraq have not forgotten or forgiven their suffering, but they have found a new more positive relationship with us.  In the heat of combat, it is hard to imagine that Ukrainians and Americans can do the same with Russians, but we must find a way.

John McAuliff



A frequent opprobrium from official circles in Cuba is to denounce dissidents as annexationists.   The intention is to say that these are people who believe Cubans would be better off if dominated again by the US economy and political system.     

This is a reflection of a 19th century argument among Cubans about whether they should be seeking better autonomous status under Spain, annexation to the US or independence.  There were several military expeditions from the US by annexationists, including one that ironically brought Cuba its national flag.  One source of annexationism was the dream of slave holding southern states to add Cuba to their number.  

Given that a strategic relationship with Russia is necessary to provide support against the sixty year US embargo and agenda of regime change, how will Cuban political leaders address the annexationist character of President Putin's goals with Ukraine as well as his pro-separatist tactics in eastern Ukraine?

Living with contradiction is not a uniquely Cuban phenomena.

Regarding Ukraine Secretary Blinken spoke to the UN Security Council about "basic principles that sustain peace and security ...  The principle of national sovereignty."  How does that principle apply to the US embargo of Cuba, denounced every year at the UN with virtual unanimity?   

Put more colloquially, Blinken said on CNN: "what's at stake here, Dana, are some very basic principles of international relations... a principle like the fact that you cannot now, in the 21st century, purport to exert a sphere of influence to try to subjugate your neighbors to your will."

Do as we say, not as we do.  Another kind of US exceptionalism?


As a rank amateur on Russia and Ukraine but having much experience with Vietnam and Cuba, I suggest a Hail Mary Pass to end the conflict based on two factors:

1)  The parallel of attitudes, assumptions and histories of the US with Cuba and Russia with Ukraine. Our Monroe Doctrine is not so different from their Near Abroad as the Russians have noted, cited in Fiona Hill's testimony during the first Trump impeachment.

2)  The model of the solution to the Cuban Missile Crisis.   In return for Russian withdrawal of its weapons, we promised never to invade Cuba again and to remove our missiles from Turkey.

My question is whether a comparable compromise is that in return for Russian respect of Ukraine's sovereignty the US agrees to respect Cuba's, i.e. immediately undo Trump's attack on Obama's historic openings, and commit to ending the unilateral economic warfare of the embargo.    The big countries will also have to agree to not use the small country neighbor of their adversary for military or strategic advantage.

Would Putin consider those steps enough of a global achievement to back off further military action? 

Would Biden welcome a non-domestic basis for ending the embargo, probably the most transformative action the US can take regarding Cuban society and politics?

Cuba and Ukraine have warm relations so they might find the pairing that protected the sovereignty of both positive.  I noted that the press accounts of the phone conversation between Presidents Putin and Diaz-Canel said nothing about Ukraine.

The icing on the cake would be to get the Russians out of the Donbas.  Maybe that could be paired with getting us out of Guantanamo.


Aggression and defense lie somewhat in the eye of the beholder.  We saw Russian missiles in Cuba as a threat to us.  The Cubans saw them as a defense against another Bay of Pigs and ongoing CIA sponsored violent intrusions.

From our perspective, it was Russia's strategically destabilizing intervention in support of Cuba's demand for independence of us that brought us to the brink.  JFK was being pushed to invade and even to use nuclear weapons.  He had the courage and wisdom to say no.

Our strategically destabilizing support for Ukraine's independence is bringing the Russians to the brink.  It seems that Putin is doing his own pushing.  Does he have the courage and wisdom to pull himself back?

Both big countries justify changing the strategic balance through the smaller country as being done to protect the smaller country.

The US agreed to let Cuba go its own way because the cost was too high to stop them, although it did not stop us from making them suffer the embargo and regime change pressures for six decades.

Putin might come to a similar conclusion on Ukraine, and will no doubt continue to make them pay a price in the Donbas and internal instability.

The Russians have reinserted themselves very visibly with their allies in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba in the last few weeks.  In addition to Putin's call with Diaz Canel, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov has just been in Havana.  I have some doubt that Russia really wants the Cubans out from under the embargo but they could not admit that if the US put it on the table.

Getting the US to restore Obama's engagement on the way to lifting the embargo is an attainable victory for Putin.  Would it make up for acceding to lose Ukraine from direct control as we acceded to losing Cuba?

The irony is that if we lifted the punishment of the embargo, our influence with Cuba and with Cubans would grow.  Can the same be said for Russia's influence in Ukraine over time if it backed off and let Donbas reintegrate?

Geography and culture are powerful mutual attractions if big country arrogance does not intervene.

I don't know whether it would be harder for Putin to "give up" Ukraine than it would be for Biden to "give up" Cuba.

(Would Sen Menendez rather see Ukraine invaded and destroyed than free Cuba of the embargo?  Would he accept a free and unharmed Ukraine as a reasonable trade off for letting Cuba stay oppressed--which he can't do anything about anyway?)


Supplemental reading:

President Putin's Speech to Justify Invading Ukraine   February 21, 2022


"Cuba as an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder"
Louis A. Pérez, Jr., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


"The West Is Sleepwalking Into War in Ukraine"    (see comment below*)

Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy   February 23, 2022      

"The US should compromise on NATO to save Ukraine"

Jeffrey D. Sachs
Project Syndicate   February 21, 2022

The writer is director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University 

If US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin do manage to hold a summit on Ukraine, what should Biden’s approach be? 

Biden has said repeatedly that the US is open to diplomacy with Russia, but on the issue that Moscow has most emphasised — Nato enlargement — there has been no American diplomacy at all. Putin has repeatedly demanded that the US forswear Nato’s enlargement into Ukraine, while Biden has repeatedly asserted that membership of the alliance is Ukraine’s choice. 

If a summit does materialise in the days ahead, and in the planned meeting this week between US secretary of state Antony Blinken and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, the US should propose a guarantee that Nato will not enlarge to include Ukraine in return for a full withdrawal of Russian forces from the Donbas region, a demobilisation along the Russia-Ukraine border and an assurance of Ukrainian sovereignty. If the US won’t do this, then France and Germany should step forward instead. 

This would inevitably lead to cries of appeasement. Many insist that Nato enlargement is not the real issue for Putin and that he wants to recreate the Russian empire, pure and simple. Everything else, including Nato enlargement, they claim, is a mere distraction. 

This is utterly mistaken. Russia has adamantly opposed Nato expansion towards the east for 30 years, first under Boris Yeltsin and now Putin. Before that, the Soviet Union largely opposed Nato expansion, too. 

It is easy to understand why. The US would not be very happy were Mexico to join a China-led military alliance, nor was it content when Fidel Castro’s Cuba aligned with the USSR 60 years ago. 

Neither the US nor Russia wants the other’s military on their doorstep. Pledging no Nato enlargement is not appeasement. It does not cede Ukrainian territory. It does not undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty. It would in fact help to secure it. Ukraine should aspire to resemble the non-Nato members of the EU: Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden. 

Americans can learn much from the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. As the historian Martin Sherwin showed in his book Gambling with Armageddon, the crisis was resolved by a deft compromise. The Soviet Union agreed to remove its missiles from Cuba while the US agreed to remove its missiles from Turkey. 

The American public never appreciated this, alas, because President John F Kennedy insisted on keeping the US removal of missiles from Turkey secret. Kennedy did not want to appear to speak for all of Nato, and sought to protect himself from charges of appeasement from the US right. The public therefore believed that the crisis ended with Soviet capitulation, not compromise. 

Despite claims to the contrary, the western nations offered informal assurances to the Soviet Union that Nato would not enlarge to the east after German unification. The US and allies acted deceitfully, using sophistical arguments to claim that previous pledges were not binding. It was especially reckless in 2008 for President George W Bush to open the door to Ukraine’s (and Georgia’s) Nato membership. 

Biden and the US foreign policy establishment has so far refused to reconsider Nato enlargement for three reasons. First, they fear the charge of appeasement. Second, the US wants the prerogative to puts its military in any country that will have it, even if that disregards the legitimate security concerns of neighbouring states. Third, the US foreign policy establishment has long failed to acknowledge valid Russian security concerns that go back to the second world war and even earlier. 

Russia has long feared invasions from the west, whether by Napoleon, Hitler or latterly Nato. For this reason, cooler and wiser US foreign policy strategists, including Bill Clinton’s defence secretary William Perry, the great statesman and diplomat George Kennan and former ambassador to the Soviet Union, Jack Matlock, argued that Nato enlargement to the east after the demise of the USSR was unnecessary, reckless and provocative. 

If war comes, Putin would of course deserve the blame and global opprobrium. Russia’s threats are thuggish and dangerous. Yet as misguided as the Russian actions are, American intransigence regarding Nato enlargement is also utterly misguided and risky. True friends of Ukraine, and of global peace, should be calling for a US and Nato compromise with Russia — one that respects Russia’s legitimate security interests while fully backing Ukraine’s sovereignty.



*  Comment on Foreign Policy article by Stephen Walt

It is a pity that the perspective of Dr. Walt and of Dr. Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University were not heard within the US government or even in the hawk infatuated liberal media, including CNN and MSNBC.

 Unfortunately President Putin appears to be as historically and culturally insulated as US leaders and has let his dreams lead to the self-indulgence of war.

 The fantasists on the US side project us as supporting the kind of insurgence that defeated us in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, or recapitulating the victory of the Mujahidin (and look what that got us on 9/11).  I don't know enough about Ukraine to know whether a  nationalist insurgency can eventually overcome a Russian army sustained client state, but I do know that it will take tens of thousands of deaths, both military and civilian, and economic devastation to get there.

 One consistent aspect of US and Russian interventions are the victims we create and leave behind.

 The question now is whether there is anything that can be done to avoid another decade long humanitarian disaster.   On the one hand, President Putin has to get some buyer's remorse from the strength of Ukrainian resistance, the impact of sanctions or mass and high level antiwar sentiment in Moscow.  On the other the US and Europe have to give him a face saving achievement, beyond the destruction of Ukraine's military capacity.

 Maybe it could be along the lines of serious compromise about NATO membership as suggested by Walt and Sachs.  Plus maybe we can take a page from the solution for the Cuban Missile Crisis and provide a strategic trade-off elsewhere in the world.

 If we took our rhetoric seriously of sovereignty and big countries not imposing on smaller neighbors we could link Russia respecting Ukraine's self-determination in return to us respecting Cuba's, e.g. restoring Obama's engagement and ending our unilateral embargo.


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