RUSSIA-U.S. RELATIONS: RESET, RESTART, OR REPAIR?


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Should the outdated reset in our bilateral relationship be replaced by a restart or repair?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