The Russian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that US Secretary of State John Kerry will be on a working visit to Moscow on March 23-24.
«We hope that the visit of US Secretary of State John Kerry to Russia – the third in less than a year – will contribute to the normalization of US-Russian relations», said the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement published on March 19.
The event is extremely important and gives a reason to be cautiously optimistic. It manifests the desire of both parties to keep the dialogue going and maintain the channels of communication for the discussion of hot issues. No breakthrough in the bilateral relations is expected, of course, but it’s a welcomed development to intensify the cooperation.
Actually, the bilateral relations have never been a bed of roses in the past, but this time the crisis is worse than any of occasional downs over the decades. The deterioration of ties takes place at the time when both countries face a multitude of urgent problems: from international terrorism and climate change, to global migration management and United Nations reforms. Regional conflicts are spreading around and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), a related problem, tops the global security agenda. The United States and Russia have common interests in many regional hotbeds: Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Korean peninsula – to name a few.
Recent events prove that both parties realize the need to interact and scale down the growing threats to international security. The consultations on the Ukrainian issue are underway, both countries closely cooperate on Syria, the Iranian nuclear dossier is an issue to unite them and both governments hold similar positions with regard to the nuclear situation on the Korean Peninsula.
In 2013, the two countries agreed to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons. The agreement was implemented in 2014. In December 2015, the United States and Russia agreed on the UN Security Council Resolution 2254 – the road map for peace in Syria that led to the current Geneva negotiations. Against all odds, the ceasefire is generally observed and the negotiation process makes progress. Moscow and Washington can work side by side to defeat the Islamic State. Both want Syria to remain a unified country. They believe that some kind of federal system is better than partition. Together they are pushing their respective Syrian allies into negotiations toward a multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian, unified Syria. True, the goals may not be exactly the same, but the parties can be flexible enough to reach a compromise.
Nothing is guaranteed. The ceasefire may not hold. The political process is shaky. The Kurds are still not a party to the talks because of Ankara’s objections. This problem can be solved only if Turkey changes its stance on the issue. But the overall progress is tangible.
When the Russian military operation was launched in Syria in late September, 2015, the United States had no plans, whatsoever, to cooperate with Russia at all. The only thing it did was signing a memorandum on preventing air incidents. Today the US has agreed with Russia on the terrorist organizations’ list. It no longer says that the departure of Syrian President Assad is a prerequisite for any talks. It sees eye to eye with Russia on the need for Syrian Kurds to be a party to the talks.
The progress on Syria does not mean the improvement in the relationship in general. The US sticks to its policy of Russia’s containment in Europe. The military continue to make bellicose statements. «Russia has chosen to be an adversary and poses a long-term existential threat to the United States and to our European allies and partners», said US Air Force General Philip M. Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and the Commander of US European Command, in his testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee on March 1.
The United States and NATO continue to expand their infrastructure in Eastern Europe.
The US policy in other regions of the world (particularly Central Asia) is aimed at limiting Russia's influence.
Most importantly, the US refuses to put on the agenda of the bilateral dialogue the fundamental differences and problems, which prevent both countries from establishing a sustainable partnership over the 25 years since the end of the Cold War.
The current level of hostility in US-Russian relations was caused in part by Washington’s contemptuous treatment of Moscow’s security concerns in the aftermath of the Cold War, has recently said William Perry, former US Defense Secretary.
Consistent disregard for Russia’s interests by the US, as well as Washington’s dismissive attitude towards Moscow in the post-Cold War era, have led to strained relations between the two, Perry noted.
But confrontation is not what Russia wants. «We are not seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. On the contrary, Russia is open to the widest possible cooperation with its Western partners. We continue to believe that the best way to ensure the interests of the peoples living in Europe is to form a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so that the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union could be an integrating link between Europe and Asia Pacific», wrote Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in his recent article.
The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that he agreed with what Henry Kissinger, the US foreign policy guru, said during his recent visit to Russia, «Russia should be perceived as an essential element of any new global equilibrium, not primarily as a threat to the United States... I am here to argue for the possibility of a dialogue that seeks to merge our futures rather than elaborate our conflicts. This requires respect by both sides of the vital values and interest of the other».
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The visit is not a harbinger of grand Russia-America rapprochement. No new «reset» is in sight. In addition, the ongoing US presidential election campaign is not the best time for the White House to concentrate on long-term policy planning. But the expected visit does prove that the talk about Moscow’s international isolation is a forgotten thing. Russia and the US are focused on specific issues of common interest to make emerge a collaborative relationship. Both parties do what they can. Otto von Bismarck has said that «politics is the art of the possible». There is a good chance, the two great powers will do a great thing – put an end to the Syrian civil war.
As Kerry has noted, good things happen when the US and Russia work together.
There is a hope that the much expected visit of Mr Kerry to Moscow will be a big stride forward to improve the bilateral relations.