It would be better for the whole world if Russia and USA would act in common as much as possible, when involving other countries. Source: Reuters
The undulant cooling in Russia-US relations over recent years has led to the completion of the reset. This has culminated in Barack Obama's refusal to go to Moscow after the G20 Summit to be held in St Petersburg.
Among the reasons, the lack of "personal chemistry" between Putin and Obama is cited, along with irritation in the White House caused by the anti-American campaign which until recently was taking place in Russia. Another reason was a series of harsh actions carried out by the Russian leadership to limit any remaining dependence many Russian non-commercial organisations have on foreign funding. Repression against political activists in Russia, which at first was isolated but is now becoming widespread. The awkward Magnitsky Act and the even less commendable Russian response to it have also played an important role.
In the geopolitical sphere, almost no cooperation is currently taking place on Afghan transit, allegedly because of the prices of goods from the Russian side being too high. On Syria, the positions are obviously opposite. With all this as the background, the escape to Russia of Edward Snowden, who Russia clearly did not need, was simply "the straw which broke the camel's back." But all these are minor causes of the deterioration in Russia-US relations. I will move on to the main ones, in my opinion.
The two countries have common interests on issues that are far more important than the residual bilateral nuclear stand-off. To promote peaceful development of China and the situation surrounding the country, to prevent a spill-over of growing Arab chaos, to limit the effects of the spread of nuclear weapons which has already begun, to promote efforts by the international community to prevent any worsening in the situations with climate, water, food and cybercrime.
However, within the framework of this reset, these problems have either been abandoned on side-lines or put off at all. Topics from the previous agenda were brought back to the top. A reduction in nuclear arms was proposed by the Americans to be the main tool for the reset. Russian diplomats agreed with enthusiasm to the proposal of business as usual to occupy themselves with the same old things. Fellow negotiators, friends since the Cold War, met again and re-launched their old machinery.
They signed the agreement which was pointless in terms of real disarmament but was politically positive to a limited extent. Relations returned to normal for some time. Then the matter came to a halt, however. The Americans proposed further reductions, especially on tactical nuclear weapons, but the Russians did not need it. It is well-known that nuclear weapons are one of the last remaining arguments propping up the status of one of the major great powers. In addition, this partially compensates for many weaknesses of Russia in the sphere of military security.
Habitual debates – on which side has more of what – have begun. To block US efforts to reduce the Russian quantitative superiority in tactical weapons, which did not threaten anyone, Moscow declared that it would not do so while the threat remains of deployment of a European missile defence system.
Rational Obama, who ventured huge cutbacks on defence for the sake of recovery of the US economy and society, has finally de facto also abandoned plans to deploy the European missile defence system. In Moscow, they preferred not to notice this. Firstly, they were not going to open the way for a further reduction in nuclear weapons. Secondly, some Russian missile manufacturers and bureaucratic groups associated with them have begun to hope that oil money will be spent on deployment of a new generation of heavy missiles. Thirdly, some Russians seem to believe in the arguments championed by propaganda about the threat of the anti-missile defence system.
In any case, restarting the nuclear arms reduction process has predictably re-militarised the relations between the two countries and pushed the other issues out of the potential agenda. The failure of this restart − the central element in the reset − has sunken the latter as well. In fact, structurally, the reset was doomed from the very start.
The fact that the mutual economic interest of the two sides is low has also played a role. Also, Russian energy resources have become a less weighty argument. President Obama could hardly afford to refuse to meet with the leader of China. Finally, as the date of withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan approaches, Washington’s interest in Moscow has decreased in this issue as well.
At the beginning of this decade, my colleagues on the Valdai Club and I wrote a report on the need for a new agenda for US-Russian relations. We predicted that if such an agenda was not adopted, relations based on the agenda that had not been important for long would fail. The prediction has come true. The world has lost, and both countries have lost.
Where should the countries move on from here? Of course, they can begin to harm each other. Although the Americans have more opportunities to do this, Russia has some too.
However, it is better to use the current pause to work out an agenda for bilateral relations aimed at the future. Its main objective should be the limitation of growing chaos and the leadership in solving global problems. Both Russia and, even more so, the United States cannot do without each other. On the other hand, both the US and Russia have much less potential to influence the world on their own. It would be better for the whole world if these countries would act in common as much as possible, when involving other countries.
The writer is Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.
First published in Russian in Vedomosti.ru.
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