As Cold War Heats Up Comes The Death Of One Who Helped Thaw Last One, Cosmonaut Valery Kubasov Made History In 1975

Oh how I recall this moment!


It was the summer of 1975, and my childhood love of space and the idea of what it must be like to blast off from the Cape were in full gear.   The drama that summer was the United Sates and U.S.S. R. linking up in space with handshakes which produced one momentous occasion for this kid from Hancock.

Today in the paper I read with fondness again about one of the cosmonauts who made the moment happen.  Though it was an obituary there was a larger message, though unstated that seemed to leap from the page.  The world needs to be reminded, especially at a time such as this weekend when so much seems dark with events unfolding in Ukraine, that when we aim above our fears and petty politics we can achieve so much.

Valery N. Kubasov, who pioneered international cooperation in space when he joined with a fellow cosmonaut in the linkup of Soviet and American spaceships in July 1975 amid the tensions of the Cold War, died on Feb. 19 in Moscow. He was 79.  

The great-power rivalry that had consumed the United States and the Soviet Union since World War II was paused when a Soyuz spaceship flown by Mr. Kubasov, a civilian serving as flight engineer, and its commander, Lt. Col. Aleksei A. Leonov, docked about 140 miles above the earth with a three-man Apollo capsule.

The cosmonauts and the astronauts — Brig. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, and Deke Slayton and Vance D. Brand, both civilians — spent 44 hours together, exchanging gifts and conducting scientific experiments, while their spacecraft were linked.

The Soviet leader, Leonid I. Brezhnev, sent good wishes in a message transmitted by Soviet space officials, and President Gerald R. Ford spoke to the crews by telephone as they carried out a mission that presaged the creation of an international space station.

Pondering which half of the earth was the more beautiful, the Western or Eastern Hemispheres, he avoided controversy, saying, as quoted by The Telegraph of Britain, “there is nothing more beautiful than our blue planet.”

Recent History Shows Limited Leverage For United States In Crimea Against President Putin

Like so many others around the world I am captivated with the events playing out in epic style in Ukraine.  From Moscow to Washington,  from the military bravado to the diplomats behind the scene at the United Nations there are countless aspects to this story that are intriguing as well as potentially catastrophic.

But there is also history.

Some of the most recent history might be an important place to start, however, in assessing how much actual leverage the United States has in this matter now unfolding in Crimea.  That is not to say international law has not been broken with the brazen actions of Russia, or that President Putin does not need to be dealt with in the strongest terms via the international community.

But there are real limits to what can be achieved.  Consider the following.

James F. Jeffrey was Mr. Bush’s deputy national security adviser in August 2008, the first to inform him that Russian troops were moving into Georgia in response to what the Kremlin called Georgian aggression against South Ossetia. As it happened, the clash also took place at Olympic time; Mr. Bush and Mr. Putin were both in Beijing for the Summer Games.

Mr. Bush confronted Mr. Putin to no avail, then ordered American ships to the region and provided a military transport to return home Georgian troops on duty in Iraq. He sent humanitarian aid on a military aircraft, assuming that Russia would be loath to attack the capital of Tbilisi with American military personnel present. Mr. Bush also suspended a pending civilian nuclear agreement, and NATO suspended military contacts.

“We did a lot but in the end there was not that much that you could do,” Mr. Jeffrey recalled.

Inside the Bush administration, there was discussion of more robust action, like bombing the Roki Tunnel to block Russian troops or providing Georgia with Stinger antiaircraft missiles. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bristled at what she called the “chest beating,” and the national security adviser, Stephen J. Hadley, urged the president to poll his team to see if anyone recommended sending American troops.

None did, and Mr. Bush was not willing to risk escalation. While Russia stopped short of moving into Tbilisi, it secured the effective independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, while leaving troops in areas it was supposed to evacuate under a cease-fire. Within a year or so, Russia’s isolation was over. Mr. Obama took office and tried to improve relations. NATO resumed military contacts in 2009, and the United States revived the civilian nuclear agreement in 2010.

Mr. Jeffrey, now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Mr. Obama should now respond assertively by suggesting that NATO deploy forces to the Polish-Ukrainian border to draw a line. “There’s nothing we can do to save Ukraine at this point,” he said. “All we can do is save the alliance.”