The “pause” in U.S.–Russia relations at the highest level, following President Obama’s decision to cancel his meeting with President Putin in the margins of the G20 summit, raised serious questions far beyond the U.S.–Russia relationship. Bypassing each other goes against global trends—demographic patterns, the food/water/energy nexus, the diffusion of state-centric power, and emergence of individual empowerment. The U.S.–Russia relationship will really matter when it becomes less about each other and more about working together toward addressing common challenges.

The inability in Moscow and Washington to make progress on arms control and missile defense, on trade and human rights, or even on Syria, adds to a long list of vexing issues between the United States and Russia, including periodic crises like the Magnitsky case or the Snowden affair. Because, however, there is a larger strategic context, the two nations should not allow the relationship to drift or become irrelevant. The key question remains whether the United States and Russia will approach the future together or separately.

It has never been beneficial to isolate or marginalize Russia. Ignoring Moscow has had limited and short-lived benefits. Similarly, Russia may turn toward Eurasia or the Asia-Pacific for alternatives, but it will not escape the importance of Euro-Atlantic relations for its own long-term modernization plans.

For the past 20 years, the Washington–Moscow relationship has been cyclical, but currently it seems to be in a downward spiral.  No one seems to have learned from one cycle to the next and one may wonder how many times the relationship will have to “reset.” The relationship has become essentially asymmetrical, hostage of a narrowly defined security agenda dominated by nuclear weapons and arms control negotiations, which makes it impossible to develop a strategic partnership befitting today’s global trends.

What can and should both countries do to “fix” the relationship?

At this particular juncture, an honest diagnosis of the U.S.–Russia pathologies would point to a limited ability to address common concerns jointly.  In the short term, the dynamic between Washington and Moscow may become purely transactional, without much trust and with little hope of closing the value gap. This should not be seen as negative.

The prognosis for a cooperative way forward is unclear at best.  What is very clear, however, is that if engagement between the United States and Russia leads to one side prevailing over the other, the two sides will disengage.  This type of partnership with Russia is unsustainable.

The prescription is not a matter of quick fixes.  First, the two sides need a long-term strategy, in an attempt to remain engaged without prejudging the outcome.  A long-term strategy would serve as a guidepost in managing expectations, hedging against political improvisation and unhelpful decisions, and mitigating the risks of disengagement. A long-term strategy could also help identify compromises between the requirements of expedient solutions typical in a transactional relationship, without losing sight of the ultimate search for a normative framework to be ushered in due course by potential transformational leadership. Moreover, in managing time, a strategy could offer short-term goals and long-term objectives, and thus allow for pragmatic decisions based on interests, while retaining a value-based, long-term perspective.

Second, for the relationship to develop in the long run, there would have to be a conscious political choice by the top leadership on both sides toward engagement, and a readiness to address disagreements within national constituencies.  The biggest challenge will not be the lack of common interests or the absence of an inspiring vision.  The biggest challenge has been and will remain the lack of mutual intentions, mutual respect, and shared political will on the part of respective leadership to work with their own internal opposition towards genuine cooperation.

It is unclear at this stage whether the United States and Russia can develop a relationship of mutual respect without an expectation on either side to win over the other on the merit of its own position.

Isabelle François is Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Any realistic hope of managing a negotiated peaceful end to the Syrian civil war, or preventing Iran getting a nuclear bomb, or maximizing the chance for relative stability in Afghanistan, or keeping global energy markets stable, will require successful cooperation with Putin’s Russia. Beyond those issues, there are in addition counterterrorism and moving toward a more stable global nuclear order.  In sum, Russia matters only if one is seriously concerned about protecting and advancing America’s national interests.

The easiest course for leaders of both countries is to blame the other; certainly that sells best in the domestic politics of each. And about Putin’s Russia, there is certainly lots not to like.

But if American and Russian leaders will focus first on their own national interests, they will conclude that poking each other in the eye or insisting on unrealistic demands are unhelpful. Finding a path to the limited cooperation essential for dealing with the challenges that matter most will require both to think more clearly about how the world looks through the other’s eyes, and to compromise in ways that will be uncomfortable, especially in the domestic politics in each country.

Graham Allison is Director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and Douglas Dillon Professor of Government, Harvard Kennedy School.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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I’m sure that the other responders to this question will come up with a list of reasons why Russia matters. I am sure that I will pretty much agree with that list. In the best of all possible worlds, is there anyone (to repeat the obvious) who wouldn’t like Russian cooperation in reducing nuclear weapons or regulating regional conflicts?

Let me focus instead on a broader issue:  whether in today’s crisis-ridden world the U.S.-Russia relationship is still among the top priorities for U.S. policymakers, based on a calculation of whether the result of sustained engagement will be worth the time and effort.

At present, the United States thinks Russia is unhelpful and Russia thinks the United States is weak. America has always had a narrow definition of what is “helpful”—the Russians are right to complain that on past occasions this has really meant doing what the United States wants them to do. But America then (in the 1990s) is not America now.  Now America really, really, doesn’t know what to do in several crisis areas, particularly in Syria and the Middle East, and really, really doesn’t want to get involved in yet another far-off war, so asking the Russians to follow our lead when we don’t know where we are going is not likely to produce great results.

Russia, for its part, has pursued anti-Americanism at home, criticized American domestic and foreign policy, taken cynical advantage of America’s missteps and intelligence overreach, and looked for international friends in all the wrong places. It took the cancellation of a summit, thus denying President Putin the international legitimacy he craves, and of course renewed talk about military intervention in Syria, to elicit a greater willingness to be helpful in investigating chemical weapons use. But, despite the happy talk at the recent “2 plus 2” meeting, the Russians let it be known that recent talks on missile defense were at an impasse.

Does this sound like we have grounds for much optimism about where the relationship is headed?

Add to this the fact that the two leaders don’t like each other very much, and are increasingly constrained by domestic groups that don’t want the relationship to get better, and it is clear that no amount of sober analysis by a group of experts about why Russia matters, or about shared interests and the virtue of realpolitik, will fundamentally change the present dynamic of the relationship.

Marshall Shulman once wrote that progress in U.S.-Russian (then U.S.-Soviet) relations required success in three separate negotiations: one between political groups in the United States; the second between elites in Russia; and a third negotiation between the two countries.  Of the three negotiations, he said, the bilateral talks were by far the least difficult. He was right then, and I think he would say the same about the current situation. These dynamics have to change before anything is going to get done.

And, finally, then, as now, a sustainable U.S. foreign policy toward Russia has to care about what happens to Russians and how Russian citizens are treated by their own state. This is not a made-up concern, and it is not going to be wished away by the realists’ magic wand.  All of us have a part to play in getting the message across to the Russian elite that it is impossible to benefit from an international system based on the rule of law and international norms if you neither respect the law nor agree to live by international norms. We see examples every day that the defense of property rights (so critical to Russia’s modernization) is not possible without guaranteeing the rights of the people who own that property.

It is debatable whether American policymakers have lost the right to lecture anyone on either of these points, but that does not mean these principles have lost their validity. We—all of us who support what Carnegie Corporation and countless others are trying to do in Russia—have to continue to engage at home and with counterparts in Russia on all fronts.  Eventually, policymakers will have no choice but to do the same.

Toby T. Gati is Senior International Advisor at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP. All views expressed are her own and may not necessarily reflect those of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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Syria and its chemical weapons have emerged as a temporary opportunity for cooperation between the United States and Russia. The problem of Afghanistan drug trafficking may be another, a more lasting one. There are more issues where cooperation is problematic to say the least. Most importantly there’s no basis—such as trust or solid mutual interest—for sustainable relations between Russia and America. When trust is missing in a relationship, one way to avoid tensions is to reduce relations to a minimum. But even if the two parties try to pass over difficult and divisive issues, unexpected developments—another Snowden or another Magnitsky—can undermine the seeming calm. There may be no return to the confrontation of the Cold War—the world is just too different today and the disparity of power between the United States and Russia too broad—but the inability of the two nations to come to terms and a reluctance to understand each other is at times reminiscent of the Cold War period.

Almost half of the Russians share a negative perception of the United States, up from 27 percent just two years ago. This sharp decline is the result of the anti-American line pursued by the national television networks, which persistently portray the United States as a force for evil:  Russian nongovernment “agents” recruited by Americans undertake to weaken Russian statehood; Russian orphans are maimed by their adoptive American families; alien American culture is imposed on Russia in order to undermine its traditional values.

In the course of post-Soviet development, tides of anti-Americanism rose several times, but then a more reconciled tone would set in. This time there’s more to the current trend than merely an anti-American slant on TV. After all, the coverage of Russia in the American media can hardly be described as a model of objectivity. But in Russia, the intense anti-American rhetoric has not subsided for over two years now. And this rhetoric is accompanied by anti-American moves and policies, such as the harassment of the American ambassador, the eviction of USAID, or a ban on American adoption of Russian orphans, to mention just a few. Most importantly, anti-Americanism has become a major element of Russia’s quest for a national identity.

Although two decades have passed since the collapse of communism and the Soviet Union, up until recently Russia remained uncertain over the nature of her new statehood.  The Kremlin, and Putin in particular, were evasive on what post-communist Russia stood for. Russia was no longer communist or totalitarian, but she failed to produce a reasonably consensual narrative of what the Soviet past was about. She did not fully embrace the principles of a market economy or liberal democracy, but neither did she reject them. Nor did she decide whether or not she was essentially “European.”

Uncertainty and evasiveness were convenient because they helped muffle societal divisions. But in late 2011, public acquiescence was broken by the Moscow protests, and the Kremlin felt the urge to consolidate the majority against the Moscow troublemakers. This called for more clarity on values and principles, and a new identity. Over the past two years, this identity has gained explicitly anti-Western and antiliberal shape. The Pussy Riot trial, the “anti-gay” legislation, the overt and self-righteous xenophobia, or the detention of Greenpeace members are but a few examples of overt rejection of Western values. These and other antiliberal, antisecular, antimodern developments are driven by the  political shifts inside Russia, but today Russia’s foreign policy stance, and relations with the United States in particular, are largely shaped by her domestic policy agenda.

The identity currently in the making may be not too solid—there’s too much “against” about it and too little “for”—but for the moment it resonates well with the broad public mindset. As long as Russia’s quest for identity takes the anti-Western and anti-American path, this will preclude constructive or reliable relations with the United States. America can hardly make a difference in this process, especially since the United States itself is currently facing soul-searching questions regarding its own role in the world.

Maria Lipman is editor-in-chief of Carnegie Moscow Center’s Pro et Contra journal.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationshipproject produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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The “reset” now, to many people in Russia, sounds like a curse due to the perpetual decline in Russia-U.S. relations. However, Russia was able to pull relations out of the deadlock that occurred in 2008. Since then, the process of transformation of our relationship has been witnessing ups and downs. Inspiring, though limited, progress in managing the Syrian crisis in recent months opens doors for cautious optimism. Why do both countries need to develop it into success?

There are many reasons for that. The world, which is now a unified political space, is clearly in a state of disorder and is full of uncertainties. I’ll confine my analysis to only one example. The swift and always thrilling turns of the “Arab spring,” with serious global consequences, leave no doubt that our common house needs to be made up. The overstretched America, with all its might, cannot govern it alone. The attractiveness of the Western model has been severely shaken due to the weakening of its economy along with the rise of China and the partial loss of its moral credibility after two wars in the Middle East. Interventionism proved to be disastrous for the situation in the region and global order. The Iraqi and Afghan traumas of America make it no longer fit for managing the world system. The forthcoming American withdrawal from Afghanistan is a meaningful achievement, but nobody can be sure that the mission has been completed.

Russia and the United States face common threats coming from this region, such as international terrorism, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, religious extremism, illegal drugs production and trafficking, illegal migration, and destabilization of the oil market. So far, we are natural partners in confronting them. Both our countries have a comprehensive global outlook, have international weight, and possess adequate capabilities. Needless to say this partnership can be provided through relying upon collective leadership—with other partners—and universal international norms. Unilateral use of force and violation of sovereignty of independent states (unless it is approved by the UN Security Council) have to be excluded.

Should the outdated reset in our bilateral relationship be replaced by a restart or repair?

It depends on how we identify the existing difficulties and obstacles. I believe that the main issue rests in already deep mistrust, exacerbated by adversarial rhetoric. Meanwhile, as my co-chairman in the Dartmouth Task Force, Hal Saunders, likes to say, leaders sign agreements but citizens fulfill them. Many of the agreements remained on paper by virtue of the lack of support at the grassroots level. That’s why building trust among citizens, in my view, is the main condition for restarting a comprehensive partnership or repairing our relations. By the way, there is no personal friendly relationship between our leaders.

That’s why, first of all, it is necessary to enhance exchanges between citizens—students, youth, intellectuals, women, civil society in general, to conduct joint sports and cultural activities. More second-track workshops, seminars, and roundtables should be organized to contribute to better understanding of each other.

The United States has also to support Russia in opening its market for Russian trade and economy and to provide free access to modern technologies. In turn, Russia should substantially improve its climate for U.S. and other foreign investors.

Our countries have to prepare—through consultations—to cooperatively confront possible threats emerging from Afghanistan under the worst-case scenarios in the aftermath of the withdrawal of American troops.

Given the opening in the P5+1–Iran talks on Iran’s nuclear program, our countries have to bridge differences in their positions and combine their efforts in order to solve this problem peacefully. Syria is another case where the emerging new understanding should be further developed on the two nations’ common interest in stopping violence and restoring peace there.

I stop here, though I could suggest a lot of other things in the realm of the above-mentioned “restart” or “repair.” For implementing them, only one thing is needed—political will.

Prof. Vitaly Naumkin is Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Despite the recent complicated developments in international affairs and in domestic politics in Russia and the United States, the relations between the two powers remain a key factor in the global situation. In any case, this holds true as long as the issue of international security remains high on the international policy agenda.

In this sphere, the effectiveness of combating the proliferation of nuclear weapons (and other types of weapons of mass destruction) and international terrorism, as well as the resolution of crises in a number of most important regions (the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and the South Caucasus) depend primarily on Russia and the United States. The recent agreements on Syria and the resumed talks on Iran’s nuclear program are noteworthy examples of the utmost importance of such cooperation.

The current foreign and domestic policies of Russia and the United States are such that there is little hope that in the key element of their relationship—nuclear arms control—a qualitative breakthrough is possible. The dialogue on nuclear arms control is currently at an impasse, where it was brought to in 2011 due to the disagreements over the U.S./NATO ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, consequently exacerbated by broader strategic, geopolitical, and ideological differences.

However, if chemical disarmament in Syria is successful and war in the Persian Gulf is prevented, it may be possible to open a new window of opportunity for the renewal of a serious dialogue on strategic armaments. Even the USSR and the United States, with all their contradictions, conducted such bilateral negotiations for more than 20 years and achieved considerable success in the form of the SALT/START-1/INF treaties.

The expert community, along with relevant state agencies, should prepare in advance for such a window of opportunity, in order not to waste time when the right moment comes and not to miss a favorable chance, as has happened more than once before. At the same time, one should not hope that it will be possible to simply pick up where things were left in 2011. The situation has changed, and this must be taken into consideration so as not to repeat the past mistakes.

First, unlike in the recent past, there is no longer just one major missile defense program, that of the United States, but two: the American and the Russian programs. The latter is being developed as part of the Aero-Space Defense program, which is the top priority of Russia’s State Armament program until 2020 (comprising 20% of weapons development and procurement allocations, or $110 billion). For this reason, the issue of Russia’s participation in the NATO missile defense program is no longer valid. One can only speak about finding elements of compatibility between the two systems and programs. But here lies the problem: the American missile defense system is being created to defend against rogue states’ missiles [P1] (although many  Russians are convinced that it is aimed against them), whereas the Russian Aero-Space Defense forces are being openly built first and foremost against the United States. It is clear that such systems cannot be combined or made compatible.

Second, throughout the development of its Aero-Space Defense program, Moscow seems to have lost interest both toward the idea of a joint missile defense system in accordance with the notorious past “sectoral missile defense” model (even if former President Medvedev seriously believed in this project), and also toward reaching legally binding guarantees that the U.S. strategic defenses would not be targeting the Russian nuclear deterrence forces. Although Russia continues to repeat its previous arguments at an official level, they sound more like lip service statements than proposals for reaching a real agreement. It goes without saying that Russia would not mind limiting the U.S. missile defense system, but it would hardly agree to limit its own Aero-Space Defense according to the same principle of “nontargeting” the other party, insofar as the Russian Aero-Space Defense system is being created precisely against the United States. A clear demonstration of this “new look” was provided by President Putin’s decision of November 2013 to disband the special interagency group that was organized in 2011 to conduct the dialogue with the United States on this issue.

Third, in reality, rather than missile defense, by all appearances it is actually the perceived threat of U.S. precision-guided conventional strategic offensive systems that have been coming to the forefront of Moscow’s strategic concerns. They include the existing sea-based and air-based subsonic cruise missiles, the development programs for supersonic cruise missiles, and hypersonic boost-glide delivery vehicles within the framework of the Global Prompt Strike (GPS) program. In this sphere, Russia’s lag is most pronounced, and it is obviously concerned about the survivability of its nuclear deterrence capability under a hypothetical U.S. conventional disarming strike.

In light of such a threat (however questionable it may seem to many experts), Russia views negatively the U.S. proposals to continue reductions of strategic nuclear weapons as a follow-on to the New START treaty and to limit nonstrategic (tactical) nuclear weapons. Moreover, it is primarily against this threat that Russian Aero-Space Defense is designed and deployed.

Based on this, as soon as a political window of opportunity opens, the limitation of strategic offensive nonnuclear weapons should become top priority. There is a precedent for this in the New START treaty which sets the limit on strategic ballistic missiles regardless of their warhead type: nuclear or conventional.

It is true that agreeing on new limitations of this type of cruise missiles and hypersonic boost-glide delivery vehicles would be much more complicated. This is all the more so, since Washington justifies these new systems in terms of their potential usefulness for striking rogue states and terrorists.

However, if there is political will and if serious strategic analysis is applied, it should be possible to draw a demarcation line between the stability of central strategic balance and the regional military tasks, and to combine treaty limitations with confidence-building and transparency measures. For more than 40 years of arms control history, in the presence of political will and with the support of the expert community, the two parties have been able to solve more complicated problems—even during the years of the Cold War.

Removal or tangible alleviation of the perceived threat of U.S. strategic conventional weapons would make it possible for Russia to proceed with the follow-on agreements on strategic and nonstrategic nuclear arms reductions. Moreover, it would be conducive to the redirection of its Aero-Space Defense from opposing the U.S. systems to defending Russian territory from strikes by missiles and aircraft of rogue states and terrorists. Such restructuring may basically use the same BMD/air defense technology but would imply a different deployment geography and warning-command-control systems. This would create a strategic environment for making U.S. and Russian defensive systems compatible and interfacing them in some elements to enhance their combat effectiveness.

This is the new key to further nuclear arms reductions and to eventually engaging third nuclear weapon states in the arms control process, and in a longer perspective, to the cooperation of some great powers in the development of their strategic defense systems, which, in turn, would imply building essentially allied relations among them.

Alexei Arbatov is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences; head of the Center for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations; and chair of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Moscow Center. 

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Sergey Oznobishchev, Institute for Strategic Assessments

| U.S. Foreign Policy | Syria | NATO | Cold War |

The recent upsurge of cooperation between Moscow and Washington toward a resolution of the Syrian crisis demonstrated once again that the most urgent regional and world security issues cannot be resolved effectively in the absence of close U.S.-Russian cooperation.

This is also true with regard to a much broader array of important global-level problems. Dismantling the Cold War machine and confronting global threats and challenges—terrorism and nonproliferation being among them—are a few of the most urgent from the first-order agenda of problems to be resolved. This list may be further expanded.

Another important goal, which is also impossible to reach for any country on its own, is a nuclear-free world—a distant dream that should, however, be realized if we really want to build a safer world based on new security principles. There is no logical explanation why we should be unable to make an attempt and start moving, in much more practical terms, to this noble goal and agree on a certain timeframe and on measures to be implemented—as it was presupposed in the mid-1980s according to Gorbachev’s multistage plan for the elimination of nuclear weapons by the end of the 20th century.

It is also difficult to find rational reasons to justify why we cannot proceed further with arms control, taking into account that efforts in this field were implemented even in the decades when Moscow and Washington considered each other to be “potential enemies.” It seems that all of a sudden we have to look for an explanation for the things we considered to be a natural common interest for dozens of years.

Is it some new outstanding threats that have emerged? Or, which is more probable, is it something that went wrong in U.S.-Russian relations, unprecedentedly reducing the level of mutual trust?

I suppose that in such a short piece there is no need to go into detail and remind readers what concrete steps led to the present unsatisfactory state of mutual relations. Experts and politicians on both sides can enumerate a lot of them. And all their assessments should be taken seriously—for they will reflect the perception of the two sides.

The Russian specialists, most probably, will point to the one-sided U.S. and Western policy over a long period of time of ignoring Russian concerns (on the enlargement of NATO, for instance). The U.S. experts will be emphasizing the “value gap”—differences in the ideological foundations of approaches to the resolution of domestic and external issues. A lot of other discrepancies will be found.

Hence, to improve mutual perception is the first priority task, and what is even more important, to refrain from creating again the image of the other side as a potential enemy. Let us also do everything in our power to reestablish mutual trust.

Let us try to put aside the issues we cannot solve for the time being. Let us take the most urgent and fundamental issues, agree on some of them, put others down on the list of our concerns and try to discuss them openly. We are really lacking such an open dialogue, particularly at the expert and public level. But such a dialogue should be a standing one, not the sporadic attempts at discussing disconnected topics, which the politicians often prefer to do. The dialogue should embrace the fundamental issues of our relations, including the military and strategic ones.

At the official level, it is essential to start building the foundations of the mechanism of partnership—when, at least, neither of the sides is introducing steps that will definitely raise concerns of the other. In parallel, attempts should be intensified to revitalize the arms control process. To improve relations, cooperation should be started in all possible spheres.

What could draw us into tighter relations and make partnership more probable is a common “grand project” which would incorporate an ever-increasing number of spheres of science, technology, economics, and human relations. This should be a project of a new kind, for instance, to oppose the threat from space (an asteroid striking the Earth, which is now taken as a rather serious threat by certain Russian officials) or cooperative preparation for an expedition to distant planets.

In view of the common goals and challenges that Russia and the United States are facing, they are destined to be partners, if the national elites do not sway them off this course.

Sergey Oznobishchev is the director of the Institute for Strategic Assessments and department head at the Center for International Security of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Feodor Voitolovsky, IMEMO RAN

| U.S. Foreign Policy | Cold War | Syria |

After the end of the bipolar confrontation, the global economic and political order has become more interdependent, more complicated in its structure and framework of actors. The security environment has dramatically changed too; it has become more affected by different types of international and transnational challenges. Has this emerging world become more secure or not for Russia and the United States? And does the current state of relations between them really match the depth of the changes and challenges? Both answers are negative.

The case for of a new world war between major powers is the lowest since the beginning of the 20th century. It has become almost excluded from the intentions of the two nuclear superpowers. But the international system has not become more secure and predictable for all responsible players in each concrete field of international security.

The political atmosphere of Russian-American relations is still developing under the strong influence of the ideas and attitudes formed during the final period of the Cold War and the first years after it. The two countries still carry the controversial political legacy of mutually exaggerated expectations and attention to traditional military issues. Psychologically, relations between the two nations were seriously damaged during these years by ahistorical beliefs in rapid progress and the succeeding natural mutual disappointments. During the last 10 years, sometimes because of serious international reasons but mostly under the influence of fickle winds of domestic politics, the haze of mutual mistrust and inertial zero-sum psychology was still saturating the minds of Russian and American political elites. Such a model of interaction is becoming a more and more costly game for both powers. It is giving other actors plenty of opportunities to use the Russian-American unwillingness to cooperate with each other and to start common initiatives in nonmilitary security in their own interests. Each time Russia and the United States face new security challenges, they prefer to see them separately from the bilateral agenda.

Of course, Russian-American nuclear strategic stability and bilateral arms control regimes will be one of the principal elements of the military balance between two countries for the long term, even when and if both sides reach new levels of reductions and want to go further. But the problem is that such traditional military topics are still overshadowing other security issues, which are not directly interconnected with Russian-American interaction but can become an area of cooperation. The experience of the last three years since the Prague Treaty has shown that, in the case of reaching new levels of strategic arms reductions, the deficit of Russian-American dialogue on new global and regional security issues could quickly become filled with stereotypes and phobias of the past. In this case, both sides are beginning to use small competing claims as an imitation of serious politics. The paradox is that common attention to the new security issues gets even lower when the next phase of the strategic arms reductions is not among the priorities of both governments. Now we are in such a period again. And it depends on the political farsightedness of both governments if they will find new drivers for the broader 21st century security dialogue, or will prefer to wait for several years more for a window of opportunity to do big deals on strategic offensive and defensive weapons and not waste their political capital on other issues that still seem to be too small for a positive agenda.

The level of trust between Russia and the United States during the last two years was too low to predict any serious breakthrough in bilateral cooperation on modern security challenges, even when they include international terrorism, religious political extremism, transnational crime, illegal financial networks, maleficent cyber activity and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, instability in the Middle East and Africa, uncertainty about Afghanistan’s future, and unpredictable scenarios of possible crisis on the Korean peninsula. But Russian-American collaboration on the Syrian crisis has shown the real possibility for cooperation on a broader variety of international problems. If such activities were not something extraordinary and interaction among officials and experts concerning the broader security agenda was valued as much as communication associated with big arms control issues, it could give us a chance to go beyond routine cycles in our relations.

Dr. Feodor Voitolovsky is head of the Political Section of the Center for North-American Studies at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationshipproject produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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Information that emerged recently regarding the further shift of the United States’ foreign policies toward the Asian region and diminishing U.S. attention to the Middle East (with the exception of the Israeli-Palestinian track) has already caused widespread reaction. If Washington truly intends to carry out the policies of the U.S. pivot toward Asia that was announced several years ago, this does not represent a significant disengagement by this leading global player from the effort to support stability in our restless world. In turn, emphasis on the Asian Pacific region cannot but have an impact on global and regional dynamics. It also serves as a testament to the United States’ increasing attention on relations with China.

No matter how one views the rebalancing of U.S. foreign policy, relations with the United States will remain at the heart of Russia’s foreign policy priorities. Recent progress toward the resolution of the crisis in Syria demonstrated that there are new advantages for those who support the strengthening of Russian-U.S. relations.

It is not by chance that last September, during the Valdai Forum, the Russian minister of foreign affairs made it clear that successful efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis will lead to the restoration of strategic cooperation with the United States on a wide array of important bilateral and multilateral issues.

In Russia the issue of respect for international law and adherence to UN decisions, including those pertaining to the use of military force, are of particular importance. Any attempts to circumvent international law will be perceived with extreme sensitivity in Moscow, and may affect relations with various countries and organizations.  Therefore, agreement on this issue between such prominent players as Russia and the United States will facilitate the improvement of bilateral dialogue.

The future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of coalition forces represents an extremely important challenge for Russia. This issue is of concern to Moscow and its partners in the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It would be useful to gradually establish contacts between the Collective Security Treaty Organization and NATO. Such contacts would have a positive effect on Russian-U.S. relations due to the United States’ leading role in NATO. Certainly there are many obstacles, primarily stemming from the West, but it is worth considering.

Recently signed bilateral documents related to cyber security represent an important event. Our two countries should continue to actively consult with one another in order to expand agreements in the sphere of Internet governance and cyberspace on an international level, in order to overcome serious common threats. The voices of those who proclaim the importance of strengthening the economic foundation for Russian-American relations and of moving toward a significantly higher level of interaction in that sphere are becoming more prominent these days. Given all the obvious difficulties on this path, this would enhance predictability in Russian-American relations and diminish the chance of sudden changes.

Related to this, the ongoing formation of new trade and economic partnerships between the United States and EU, with the participation and under the auspices of the U.S. Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), should be noted. Thus far, it’s too early to assess the risks for Russia in this regard, but we must consider ways to jointly overcome possible misunderstandings. That may be facilitated by the strengthening of cooperation and mutual understanding at such important venues as the G-20 and G-8. But on the whole, it is useful to place economic considerations in the top tier of the agenda for Russian-American relations.

Igor Yurgens is chairman of the board of the Institute of Contemporary Development.

This post is part of the Perspectives on Peace and Security: Rebuilding the U.S.–Russia Relationship project produced by Carnegie Corporation of New York in partnership with the Carnegie Moscow Center.

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