RF-US relationship: what next?
With the reset over and Ukraine as a stumbling block on the way to improvement, following are sc enarios for how events might unfold. The relations will go on deteriorating due to lack of agreement on missile defense, tensions over Ukraine, struggle for influence in Central Asia. The feeling of deep frustration over NATO expansion and US interventionist foreign policy is clearly prevalent in Russia.
Low intensity stand-off is the most probable scenario to include confrontational rhetoric, military activities (exercises) and confronting each other at regional level. There is a possibility of The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) being torn up with consecutive deployment of intermediate range nuclear missiles in Europe. The US will undertake attempts to drive a wedge in the relationship of Russia with China, India, Brazil and other Russian partners, especially in the post-Soviet space, as well as weaken the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Sluggish process of maintaining contacts: there is a chance that, putting the plethora of issues that divide them, the parties will continue a dialogue on strategic arms control and missile defence, as well as pressing security problems of common interest. The lack of economic basis for relationship has always been a weak point in the structure of bilateral relationship. Maintaining contacts is a matter of fundamental importance. There is a silver lining here - as mentioned above with hostile rhetoric the need to maintain such contacts has been mentioned by US Vise President Joe Biden expressing the attitude of Democrats and Jeb Bush on the side of Republicans.
At that, neither a Democrat, nor a Republican is expected to start serious talks on missile defense or recognize the fact that Russia has its own legitimate interests in the post-Soviet space (as well as the US in America and worldwide). Besides, easing tensions over Ukraine to large extent depends on Congress as the current practice shows. The prospects for progress on the issue are bleak to put it mildly.
Perhaps, getting down to brass tacks and address the whole specter of the issues on the Russia-US agenda would be a right thing to do, but this prospect is hardly feasible as US race runners are evidently prone to create the image of “get tough” approach advocates in line with “cowboy mentality”.
Middle East – issue of special importance omitted so far by US race runners
Counterterrorism is one area where the United States and Russia have a common interest. Building on the pervasive need to confront the Islamic radicals could be a way to slowly built trust between the two countries. With no insurmountable differences between them, Russia and the US recognize the need to fight against international terrorism. That’s what US State Secretary John F. Kerry told President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the recent meeting in Sochi. In theory the both parties could cooperate to restore stability in Libya.
Russia is willing to cooperate with Western and regional actors in fight against terrorism, but it has always preferred to cooperate with legitimate governments. After Islamic terrorists massacred civilians in Palmyra, the Russian Foreign Ministry again urged international and regional actors to work with the governments of the countries that are waging a bloody war against this evil. Moscow is especially worried about the growing number of jihadists recruited from Russia and Central Asia to fight for the Islamic State, Jabhat al-Nusra, which is affiliated with al Qaeda, and other terrorist groups. The International Crisis Group estimates that around 4,000 Central Asians have joined the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Bloomberg on June 2 that he was worried that Islamic State could take a great deal of territory and grow much stronger. “They [IS] already make a lot of progress in Iraq, in Syria. They just took the Idlib province”, said Mr. Lavrov. “And even in northern Afghanistan which is very close to Central Asia which is next door to Russia.”.
The US is also threatened. It’s impossible to prevent all the terrorists from entering the country. The way to protect America is to prevent training grounds established and safe spaces to plot appeared. The cooperation with Russia can provide benefit. One could envision Russian and American cooperation against the IS as a way to move the relationship forward. The need is there, but can be accomplished in this field before the next occupant of the White House takes office. Will US presidential hopefuls address the burning issue?
Iran is an issue of utmost importance too. The US administration needs Russia’s cooperation both in negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran and ensuring that the punitive actions regime is observed until the deal is through and the sanctions are formally lifted according to a resolution taken by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Russia’s cooperation is vital here. The US may need Russia’s cooperation on Syria, Yemen or Iraq when it comes to UNSC vote.
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The US sticks to the formula - no business as usual unless Russia does what it is told to do, something firmly rebuffed by Moscow. With all this kerfuffle around Ukraine, common interests should not be forgotten and there are so many of those, take, for instance, nonproliferation, terrorism (the Islamic State is a common enemy of Russia and America), Iran, Afghanistan, the climate. Recognizing disagreements, the relationship can focus on common interests.
The US and Russia have great responsibility, but it’s a global, not bilateral responsibility. No way can non-proliferation, exploration of space, ecology or the Middle East situation be effectively tackled without Russia and the US finding a common language. It remains to be seen if the US race runners realize how important it is.