To Seek Peace in Ukraine, Remember the End of the Cold War

For almost eight decades, Americans and Russians have been schooled to hate each other—a process that has gained massive new impetus as a result of the war in Ukraine, now entering its third year. There was one brief, glorious exception: the last years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership of the USSR and the first years of post-Soviet Russia.

Hopes ran high for a new era of cooperation and friendship between the United States and Russia, and in the world more broadly.

In my case, as a former journalist in South Asia with a background in colonial and postcolonial studies, such hopes were encouraged by the fact that—even given the various conflicts in the Caucasus—the breakup of the Soviet Union was so remarkably peaceful compared with the end of the British, French, Portuguese, Austrian, and Ottoman empires. With the Ukraine conflict, that happy comparison has come to an end.

This brief period was characterized by almost hysterical adulation on both sides. In America, you had “Gorbymania”; in Russia, you had the uncritical fetishization of Western and especially American democracy and culture by most of the intelligentsia, and to a lesser extent by the younger population in general.