Speaking at a campaign event in Glen, New Hampshire on July 4, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said the United States has to be «much smarter» about how it deals with Russian President Vladimir Putin. «That's why we have to be much smarter in how we deal with Putin and how we deal with his ambitions», Clinton said at a campaign event. «He's not an easy man... But I don't think there is any substitute other than constant engagement».
So far, Mrs. Clinton has been one of Russia’s fiercest critics. In February, she said European governments were «too wimpy» in dealing with Putin, the CNN television channel cited London Mayor Boris Johnson as saying. Now the leading Democratic presidential hopeful seems to be changing the tune.
Viewing Mrs. Clinton’s record
Nothing is ever black and white. Hillary Clinton was a key player in Obama's «Russia reset» policy, which aimed to cool tensions with Russia following the 2008 events in South Ossetia. She supported the reset and even presented an ill-fated button to her Russian counterpart with the word 'reset' mistranslated into Russian language. The former State Secretary helped Russia gain entrance into the World Trade Organization. Hillary Clinton is already taking heat from Republicans for her role in the reset. Earlier last week, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) took a swipe at Clinton, and said that the US has to take a harder line on Russia. «I think there's lots to do, and we're beginning to realize the 'reset button' didn't turn out so hot», Bush said.
Hillary’s experience of hard choices
To understand the candidate’s stand on Russia it would be right to see how it has been shaped. Hillary Clinton’s over 600-plus pages-long book Hard Choices saw light in June 2014.
Hillary writes that Russia is one of the hardest choices facing America. She believes that President Putin is a pragmatic politician prone to practicing zero-sum games when it comes to foreign policy decisions. She holds an opinion that Russia is using regional integration to rebuild an empire. Mrs. Clinton views the Russian Federation as a challenge to the global order, bent on reducing the U.S. influence around the world.
However, the presidential hopeful defends the idea of «reset» in U.S.-Russian relations which she inaugurated in the 2009 public encounter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. She is firm in her conviction that the United States needs to engage with Moscow where American interests demand it, especially in the fields of nuclear arms control and non-proliferation. As for future dealings with Russia, she believes that America needs to «prevent or limit» Russia’s «negative behavior» by strengthening NATO, expressing the readiness to cooperating with former Soviet republics, and reducing Europe’s energy dependence on Russia. It should not preclude collaboration on the issues of common interests.
Future relationship: prospects and factors to reckon with
The bilateral relations continue to deteriorate with the U.S.-led NATO alliance planning to station troops and heavy weaponry on Russia’s border. At the same time ties between China and Russia are given an impetus. Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the celebration in Moscow marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Russian and Chinese leaders signed a new declaration announcing the coordinated development of the so-called Silk Road Economic Belt in Central Asia. The Russia-China economic cooperation is on the rise, including a May 2015 $400 billion deal to sell Russian natural gas to the energy-thirsty Chinese economy. Russia has recently replaced Saudi Arabia as China’s principal oil supplier. Bilateral arms sales agreements add to the relationship. Moscow has recently committed itself to sell the sophisticated S-400 air defense system to China.
This is a factor for US foreign policy decision makers to reckon with. Washington’s tough stand on Ukraine and the containment policy directed against China expedite further progress in Russia-China relationship.
The gap is wide but the U.S. and Russia need to cooperate on key issues
The United States and Russia may be at sharp odds with each other over a host of issues but the both were happy about a Russian rocket successfully launched on July 3 to carry much needed supplies for the International Space Station. With two failed attempts – one Russian and one US – the liftoff was greeted globally – no matter what flag the rocket bore.
Russian and American diplomats are rubbing shoulders in their joint effort to reach a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear program. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry have met regularly as the July 7 deal-or-no-deal deadline is approaching. The self-proclaimed Islamic State is a common threat for the both countries.
Moscow ready to shake a stretched hand
Meeting US counterpart last year Russian Foreign Minister said something relevant for understanding the Russia’s stance on the issue. According to him, he recognizes the differences between the two states, but that «in a range of cases we can interact more effectively to make the efforts of the entire world community more effective». Lavrov added that an area of particular cooperation for the two nations is the fight against terrorism.
This April he said in an interview that Russia was ready to cooperate with Hillary Clinton if she wins the presidential elections in the United States. «If Hillary Clinton is elected president of the United States, we will accept [her] as the head of that state», Lavrov said during an interview to Russian radio stations Sputnik, Ekho Moskvy, and Govorit Moskva.
The Foreign Minister pointed out that he disagrees with the theory that Russia negotiates more easily with Republicans rather than with Democrats. He did emphasize this view.
* * *
The two countries share an interest in defeating the Islamic State group and preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. This is a pragmatic consideration. Evidently Russia and the US have common interest in countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons and global nuclear terrorism. Global use of nuclear power for peaceful purposes makes Russia and the United States share a common goal of providing safety and jointly addressing proliferation concerns. The words of Hilary Clinton give hope for pragmatic approaches to prevail meeting the interests of the Russian and American common people.