The fall of the Berlin Wall 30 years ago this weekend was a triumph of Western ideology purchased by American power. Freedom’s torch was borne throughout the Cold War by US Presidents from Harry S Truman to George H.W. Bush, and their mission delivered when delirious East Berliners breached the wall that split their city for decades.
Ironically, now the greatest threat to the ensuing Pax Americana is another US President: Donald Trump. And the beneficiary is a former Dresden-based KGB officer who once despaired at the Iron Curtain’s demise: Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Trump disdains NATO, created after World War II to deter armed conflict and underwrite Western power and values, and has blasted it as an “obsolete” protection racket. He’s also dismissed its economic cousin, the European Union, as a “foe.”
And most perplexing to US allies are his reflexive positions — often seeming to mirror Putin’s foreign policy priorities rather than traditional Western goals. Last year, Trump’s flattery of the Russian President and repudiation of US intelligence was one of the most extraordinary moments of the post-Soviet area.
NATO isn’t dead yet. And not all European leaders share the same level of alarm. But French President Emmanuel Macron’s outburst to The Economist that the military alliance faces “brain death” because of a dearth of US leadership is hardly out of the blue.
Nevertheless, none of those east Berliners who poured through a gap in the Berlin Wall on that heady night in 1989 would have believed that the American presidents who saved Europe would cede power to a man more in tune with a revanchist Kremlin strongman than the Western values that felled the wall.
Meanwhile in Havana and Moscow
CNN’s Havana Bureau Chief Patrick Oppman writes for Meanwhile: It was déjà vu last month as the Presidents of Russia and Cuba sat in Moscow and pledged their countries would again overcome US imperialism.
Both Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Cuba’s Miguel Diaz-Canel were mid-career appratchicks when the end of communism came. But they kept the faith, and eventually outlasted their rivals to get the top job: Putin was selected by Boris Yeltsin to make Russia a world power again, and Diaz-Canel was handpicked by Raul Castro to safeguard the island’s socialist revolution.
Ever since Barack Obama mended relations with Cuba, Putin has showed an increased interest in Cuba. But it wasn’t until Donald Trump placed some of the toughest sanctions on Cuba in decades did the island’s leaders begin to look east again.
Now, while Cuba is unlikely to become Russia’s main foothold in the Americas as it once was, the Kremlin’s attention can be felt: Russia recently helped restore the dome of Havana’s US-inspired Capitolio building, promised to revamp the island’s broken-down train system, and agreed on greater cooperation between the two countries’ security services.
Russia all but abandoned the island after the Cold War. Warming relations now should give some in the US pause. After all the Soviets previously used Cuba to position nuclear misiles and a massive spy base just 90 miles from Florida.
The Soviet-era Russian embassy in Havana — designed to represent a scimitar in the heart of imperialism — gives an idea of the scope of ambition Russia had and may still have for its communist-run ally. At their meeting in Moscow, Putin promised badly needed economic cooperation to Havana and promised to visit the island “soon.”