Last week, the Biden administration announced plans to stop processing American travel visas for most Russian citizens who wish to visit the US. In return, the Embassy in Moscow plans to cut counselor staff in Moscow by 75%.
We greet this tit-for-tat decision with deep dismay.
In starting this altercation, the US needlessly squandered the opportunity every new administration has to open up a new, more productive chapter in US-Russian relations.
By effectively closing off our country to Russian citizens, we are choosing to be held captive to an outdated and unnecessary Cold War mentality.
This ongoing hostility between the nuclear superpowers puts the future of our planet at great risk.
The opportunities for miscalculation are abundant: the US and Russia have thousands of nuclear warheads aimed at each other; US and Russian military forces are face-to-face in theaters in Eastern Europe, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and in Syria.
We were lucky to survive the first 40-year Cold War, during which time, there were multiple nuclear “false alarms” that could have set off nationwide nuclear devastation in both countries.
Recall that even during the height of the Cuban missile crisis, the USSR and US kept their Ambassadors in place. Good thing they did: the backchannel Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy established with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin was one of the keys that solved the crisis peacefully.
Today, the embassies in Washington and Moscow sit without Ambassadors, which is a sad, yet accurate reflection of the way we have come to demonize and belittle the hard work of diplomacy.
We must do better.
To break the Cold War mentality that has a vise grip on both nations, we urge:
• A reversal of the decision to cut Consular Services in Moscow.
• Establish a Working Group on Consular Services, with the goal of reopening the shuttered Russian Consulates in the US (San Francisco, Seattle) and the American Consulates in Russia (St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok).
• Presidents Biden and Putin establish a high-level Commission headed by the American Vice President and the Russian Prime Minister in order to re-engage and re-establish diplomatic ties between the US and Russia.
• The Commission take a “whole-of-government” approach, establishing working groups at the ministerial level that would seek to mend relations and open up people-to-people exchanges.
• Establishing Working Groups in the areas of Public Health; Sports and Education; Environment; Emergency Management; Science, Technology, and Space.
In the meantime, the above would constitute small, but necessary steps toward a post-Cold War settlement: We must recognize that the crisis in Ukraine as well as efforts at election interference do not take place in a vacuum.
We must redouble our efforts at overcoming the Cold War mentality that afflicts both governments by first restoring a modicum of trust between the two superpowers.
Once established, we must then take up the hard work of serious diplomacy.
Sharon Tennison is a member of the Board of ACURA. For 40 years, Sharon has been a leader in people-to-people exchanges between the US and Russia. She is President of the Center for Citizen Initiatives.
James W. Carden is executive editor of ACURA.
The views expressed above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Committee for US-Russia Accord.