It’s generally easier to be a pessimist than to be an optimist. This is especially true when it comes to the current state and dynamics of Russian-American relations. We all have long been accustomed to the fact that these relations are developing according to the formula “today is worse than yesterday, but better than tomorrow”.
The latest news about the results of Robert Mueller’s commission didn’t give rise to new hopes as much as they created new anxieties among political analysts. There is no evidence of Russia having colluded with Donald Trump’s election headquarters in 2016, but the charges of Kremlin interference haven’t been rescinded. Therefore, as the experts assure us, no improvement in relations between Moscow and Washington should be expected. On the contrary, now that the formerly alleged criminal relationship between Trump and the Kremlin has been discarded, the president’s supporters can safely attack Vladimir Putin without any fear of casting a shadow on the American leader. And if earlier, the Democrats headed the unfriendly crusade against Moscow, in the wake of the publication of Mueller’s report, Republicans loyal to the White House will attempt to seize the initiative as soon as possible.
First, Russia was never caught by the American special services actively interfering in the US Congressional mid-term elections in November 2018, although the thesis about the “inevitability” of such interference on the eve of the elections was virtually unquestioned in Washington.
Second, last year's most gloomy forecasts about the new round of American sanctions against Russia did not materialise. At least for the time being, the White House is seeking to avoid a hasty and irresponsible escalation that could damage not only Vladimir Putin personally, but also the global financial and economic system as a whole.
Third, the uncompromising and rather unconvincing US decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty caused serious discontent in influential circles, both among Republicans and Democrats, as well as American political analysts. Even among the toughest and most consistent critics of Russia, there are more often calls to prevent the final collapse of the US-Russian strategic arms control regime.
Fourth, there are signs that in the on-going casting being organised by Washington’s political establishment, Beijing has replaced Moscow in the role of the main geopolitical opponent of the United States. If Russia is perceived by the American foreign policy elite as an annoying bully, then China will increasingly appear as a long-term strategic challenge.